Wednesday, December 23, 2009

At What Cost?

Once every month or two I read a letter or hear an anecdote about somebody in the United States who encounters someone from Canada and then asks them what they think of their single-payer health care system. The inquisitor is typically curious about the Canadian system because the state of health care in Canada is often used as a blunt instrument to scare the citizens of the United States into rejecting the idea of additional government involvment in their own health care system. We hear stories primarily of pain and suffering caused by long waits for services or procedures that are readily available in America.

The Canadians, when asked about their health care system, usually respond that they are pleased with it, and so grateful that they don't have to worry about paying for it. Then they usually express their dismay that a country as wealthy and successful as the United States still has citizens who don't have health insurance, or people who are pushed into financial difficulty as a result of the cost of fighting a serious disease or healing from a serious injury. The letter or anecdote often ends with a final question: "if government run health care is so bad, why do these polite, intelligent people like it so much?

I have an answer. A single-payer health care system has been part of the Canadian experience for so long that people have forgotten even that this question should be asked: "At what cost?" For truly, Canadians pay a price for the health care system that many wish would be exported to the U.S.A. They pay actual money, of course, in the form of higher income taxes than their friends across the border. As an example, when I moved to the United States in 1992, my gross pay in U.S. dollars was a number that was 25% higher than my pay in Canadian dollars had been in Calgary. This was because the pay scale for geoscientists, within the same company, was higher in the United States than in Canada. Much more significant than the increase in gross pay, however, was my increase in take-home pay after federal and state taxes were withheld. That number increased by nearly 100% over what it had been in Canada, and it was in U.S. dollars which at the time were worth about 20% more than Canadian dollars. So a 25% increase in gross pay netted me at least a doubling of my take-home pay--money I could use to spend on consumer goods, or invest for the future, or purchase health insurance had I needed to. So trust me, Canadians pay money for their health care, month after month after month, for all of their working lives.

They pay in other ways, too. Foremost among these is the aforementioned pain and suffering (and sometimes death) experienced while waiting for services and procedures. Though some of the horror stories that are publicized in the United States are undoubtedly exaggerated or not understood in their full context, there is no doubt that this occurs, and there is also no doubt that the federal and provincial governments are essentially powerless to correct the situation if they choose to maintain the status quo. The health care services, professionals, equipment, and facilities are limited by the money the governments have to spend, and they only have so much. So every few years, when there is a public outcry about the ridiculous wait times one has to suffer through to schedule a hip replacement or an MRI scan, the government appoints a blue ribbon commission to study the issue and make recommendations on how wait times can be reduced. They can't actually reduce them of course, that would cost money, so instead of implementing a real solution like allowing individuals the freedom to open private clinics and offices to meet the demands of the public, they make proclamations vowing to reduce wait times from 18 months to 12 months. Then, three years later, when wait times are two years, they do it again. The practical effect is government mandated pain and suffering in the name of equality.

There is also the billions of dollars of private economic activity lost to the government monopoly, the thousands of jobs that haven't been created by that lost economic activity, the dreams and opportunities unrealized, the doctors and nurses educated in the country and then lost to greener pastures, and the raising up of citizens who, through abdication of a portion of their adult responsibilities to the government, inevitably lose a little bit of their mojo.

The issue of whether the trade-off (universal coverage vs. higher taxes, rationing, freedom lost, and all the other stuff) is worth it can be reasonably discussed. But for Canadians to represent their health care system as "free" is simply wrong. They pay a price.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where's The Disaster?

In September, I wrote an entry titled "If Only He Had A Dream." In it I imagined a dream of the President and some highly unlikely, but desirable consequences. Let me follow on that theme, but take it into the sphere of climate science and deception. Let's say a hacker or whistleblower uncovered a true, smoking gun (you know, as opposed to one that isn't smoking, but whose barrel is still too hot to touch). I'm talking about undeniable, systematic, voluminous evidence that not only destroys any notion of "consensus" or "settled science", but goes beyond that to demonstrate that the entire effort of climate alarmism is a political one, rooted in the desire of an unholy coalition of leftists for a recasting of the wealth and ways of the world (many would say that the hacked/whistleblower e-mails already meet that standard). Do you think they would 'fess up then?

They might confess, but they wouldn't apologize. "We are," they would say, "just trying to do what's right."

Hmph. Transferring billions of dollars to poor countries so that they agree to remain permanent wards of the states and not do anything so counterproductive as to strive to become wealthy enough to afford the comforts and joys of modern civilization. Meanwhile, Al and Tipper live in a 20,000 square foot house and jet around the world. Every time someone dares to even suggest that Al Gore might have a wee, teeny bit of conflict of interest, what with his lifestyle and the tens or hundreds of millions he stands to gain from his investments in "green technology", he fixes the assailant with a stare that seems equal parts scorn, indignation, and hatred, and answers to the effect: "I'm just putting my money where my mouth is." I have heard his actions described differently, and I think more accurately as: "putting his mouth where his money is." For Al, disaster, or more precisely, the fear of disaster, equals dollars. So he promulgates the myth that climate change will ruin the world for human habitation and bring misery and death to billions of people. Just what is the likelihood of disaster?

Increasing CO2, combined with warmer temperatures, increases the photosynthetic efficiency of most of the world's food crops. Also, the photosynthetic process of weeds is different than that of the aforementioned crops, and increases only very slightly with the increased CO2 and temperature, such that the food crops can compete more effectively against the weeds, which decreases the need for herbicide applications. And plants use water more efficiently under conditions of increased CO2 and temperature. So we can grow more food, using fewer herbicides and less water. Where, exactly, is the disaster?

In terms of sea level, the only polar ice that matters is that which is over land. Ice sheets over the oceans already displace water, so water levels are not affected if they melt. The ice that is over land in the polar regions is thickening, not thinning, so again, the water levels are not affected. Where's the disaster?

Just like with land-based vegetation, increased CO2 concentrations enhance the growing ability of vegetation in the oceans. In addition, many types of coral grow more robustly when CO2 in the oceans is increased. All talk of acid oceans, dissolving coral, and the total breakdown of the oceanic food chain is bunk. Where's the disaster?

Besides the thesis that continuing to burn carbon-based fuels will result in environmental destruction and disaster, the environmental lobby wants us to stop burning carbon-based fuels because failure to do so now will result in shortages in the future, which will cause, you guessed it, disaster. So what is their solution? Top down mandates that restrict and tax the use of fossil fuels, so that we'll adapt and innovate and get used to living without them. So artificial, top-down inflation of the regulatory and financial cost of using carbon fuels will spur adaption and innovation today, but real, market-based inflation of the cost of these fuels at sometime in the future will lead inexorably to disaster. Huh? Is there an expiry date for adaption and innovation?

And from the "oh puhleeze" department, the disaster demographic is in full court press at the moment, what with Al's poem, the "please help save the world" video that they showed at the beginning of the Copenhagen conference, and most recently, the posters of current world leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama, doctored with wrinkles, gray hair, and remorse to suggest the year 2020, with the accompanying statement: "I'm sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change .... we didn't."

You know what those posters ought to read? "I'm sorry. Instead of spending trillions combating climate change and accomplishing nothing except the worldwide degradation of the condition of man, we could have spent ten or twenty billion on mosquito nets, DDT, and new therapies and saved millions of people in third world countries .... we didn't."