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Magician Politics
Obama as Houdini.


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Thomas Sowell

Distracting the audience’s attention is one of the ways magicians pull off some of their tricks. Pres. Barack Obama’s televised news conference on medical care shows that he is something of a magician when it comes to politics.

The big trick for the president is to convince the public that he can add tens of millions of people to his government medical-care plan without raising the costs. But an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office showed that Obamacare would in fact raise the costs and increase the deficit by billions of dollars.

With both common sense and economic analysis saying that Obama cannot expand government medical care without expanding the already runaway federal deficit, it is quite a trick to get the public to believe otherwise — a big challenge requiring big distractions.

One of those distractions has been to blame current high costs on scapegoats whom the president can rein in. Talking about the high pay of the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies is one of those distractions.

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In an industry where developing just one new pharmaceutical drug can cost a billion dollars, whether the head of a mega-billion-dollar pharmaceutical company is paid a million dollars a year, $20 million, or works free of charge is not likely to raise or lower the cost of the medicine you buy by a single dollar.

But, if making the CEO’s pay an issue can distract your attention from the impossible math used by Barack Obama and his supporters, then that is a trick worthy of Houdini.

Insurance companies are another distraction and a scapegoat, because they do not insure “preexisting conditions.” Stop and think about it: If you could wait until you got sick to take out health insurance, why would you buy that insurance while you are well?

You could avoid paying all those premiums and then — after you got sick — take out health insurance and let the premiums paid by other people pay for your medical treatment.

That is not “bringing down the cost of health care.” It is sticking somebody else with paying those costs. So is taxing “the rich.” So is passing on those costs to your children and grandchildren through government deficit spending.

When Obama makes the insurance companies the villains for not insuring preexisting conditions, that gives him another distraction and enables him to be another escape artist, like Houdini.

What is the point of government-controlled medical care if it is not going to lower costs but just shuffle them around, like a shell game?

The government does not have some magic wand that can “bring down the cost of health care.” It can buy a smaller quantity or lower quality of medical care, as other countries with government-run medical care do.

It can decide not to spend as much money on the elderly as is being spent now. That can save a lot of money — if you think having a parent die earlier is a bargain.

The idea of a “duty to die” has been making some headway in recent years around the fringes of the Left. It is perfectly consistent with the fundamental notion of the Left that decisions should be transferred from ordinary citizens to government elites.

Liberals don’t have to advocate it. But, once you have bureaucrats empowered to decide what treatments you can and cannot get, they may well decide that money spent keeping some 75-year-old grandmother alive for a couple more years could be better spent politically by enabling ten younger people to have acupuncture or visit a shrink.

Even if her children or grandchildren are willing to spend their own money to keep Grandma alive, when bureaucrats control the necessary technology or medication they may decide that it is not for sale.

Those pushing for government-controlled medical care say that you can keep your doctor. But bureaucrats in Washington will decide whether what your doctor prescribes will be allowed. Talking about your doctor is another distraction from the crucial question of who will actually have the power to decide, which can be the power of life and death.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution© 2009 Creators Syndicate, Inc. 



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