Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Cost vs Value: Freedom vs Control

The Sunday 11/15 editorial page has an editorial by Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor, titled "The price we all pay: who gets hurt when lawmakers put cost before value." So this is an attack on lawmakers who refuse to govern the way Mr. Henderson thinks they should.
 "In a conversation with Michigan House Speaker Kevin Cotter a few weeks ago, I challenged him to defend the fact that the state's Department of Health and Human Services is so under-funded that it employs just 67 inspectors to oversee compliance in 10,000 child care centers."
 First, the concept of cost is a normative concept. It refers to a quantitative relationship regarding something being measured. In this case, cost measures how much dollar value we place on something. What's being ignored here is an answer to the question, of value to whom and for what purpose? Mr Henderson is saying that it's wrong for lawmakers to place a higher value on dollar cost. To him the higher value is the product the cost could buy (more government inspectors).

Since most parents pay their own money to send their kids to care centers, the 'cost' Mr Henderson refers to is the cost the citizens would, and according to him should, be forced by lawmakers to pay for more (government) inspectors. It is also a declaration that since he values more government inspectors, lawmakers should too.

  Mr. Henderson is decrying the fact that most citizen's congressmen, are hesitant to force more money out of the taxpayer's wallets. To him, politicians just can't see the greater value in the things more taxpayer money could provide if only congress was willing to take, and citizens willing to give up, that money.

Second, I would say that 67 (government) inspectors is definitely not a good number, it should be zero. What about the thousands of parents and other family members who have children in those care centers? They can see first hand what kind of care their children are getting. In reality, they are and should be the best qualified inspectors. Government inspectors are just not needed. Government should only step in when there is evidence of rights violations. Government inspections are based on the principle that care centers are to be presumed guilty or possibly guilty and must prove their innocence by submitting to inspections, an un-American idea. In a free market, insurance companies would do this voluntarily. No need for government to usurp this activity.

He goes on to claim that citizen's desire to hang on to their money, and politicians who want the citizen's votes to get reelected, is a "deification of cost over any other measure." These 'other measures' of course are the values he wants government to control. But the fact is that it is Mr Henderson who wants to deify government control over society as the cure for all problems even though the problems he cites are poor results of government run programs. In his mind this deification has led to a certain wrong headed attitude in the minds of citizens' and their representatives.
 "So whether government works or not has become secondary, if not further down the ladder. And whether our fellow citizens can count on services government is suppose to provide--well, in too many instances, that's just not much of a concern at all."
Here he is accusing citizens and lawmakers of a nonchalant, I don't care attitude about government performance. I for one don't blame citizens for such an attitude. Government has earned it.

Notice here too that government is 'suppose to provide" services. These are of course mostly economic services like health care, roads, schools, etc. which are lumped together with legitimate i.e. political functions of government like police and courts. Nowhere in the oped does he question the propriety of government providing economic services like health care and schools and so on. But it does need to be questioned.

There is no reason a free (unregulated) market can't provide these services more efficiently and at lower costs than government. But the idea of a free people deciding for themselves what is in their interest is anathema to today's progressive intellectuals. They see government as a provider of what they call core services. But history shows that when governments usurp some market services as 'core' it's only a matter of time before it extends that control over all or most of them.

But there is more to this story. The editorial gives the impression of presenting a simple, practical argument for government control. But looks can be deceiving. It's important for readers and especially Republicans to understand that progressives almost always try to take the moral high ground. They often use adjectives like caring and concern and regard for when pushing their arguments and use the opposites like uncaring or cruel or cold hearted when describing opposing views.
Mr Henderson's version:
"But what he (Cotter) didn't mention at all, and maybe wasn't even thinking about, was value--a concept that asks us to look beyond the bills and change to other virtues, like return on investment or, more important, fulfillment of constitutional, statutory or moral obligation."
'Bills and change' are not very specific. I take it to mean dollar bills and coinage. So lawmakers are to look beyond (ignore) such things as costs to taxpayers and focus on 'constitutional and statutory and moral obligations.' Well, if our State Constitution and other laws require government to own or regulate (dictate) child care centers, schools, roads, etc. instead of the people involved then I say repeal those laws constitutional and otherwise.

But what about the moral obligation? The only moral obligation government has is "to secure these rights" and nothing more. By claiming that lawmakers have a moral obligation to regulate and run certain economic activities is to declare that if lawmakers don't compel taxpayers to pony up the money then both are being immoral. This is of course insane. How to finance child care and other services is a practical matter of economics. Not a moral one as long as no one's rights are being violated.

If Republicans weren't so brain dead they would respond to this claim to morality by pointing out that there is nothing moral about usurping the responsibilities of citizens to monitor their own activities, about how such usurpation leads to an irresponsible citizenry and an irresponsible government. Irresponsible government because it has no skin in the game, cannot lose any money by inferior inspections whereas care centers do when inspected by paying customers.

Since all the economic activities government controls and regulates; roads, schools, health care and so on are in sad shape, a genuine moral concern for them should behoove lawmakers to remove them from the auspices of government completely, especially child care inspectors. And it would move media pundits to advocate for same.

There are lots of pundits out there who firmly believe that caring for others is the ultimate moral virtue and that caring for oneself is immoral or at best amoral. Believing in this they will be compelled to view citizens taking care of themselves as selfish at best and representing an inadequately moral society. They will imagine that a government that cares for others is a moral government and yearn for a society comprised of a benevolent dictatorship, something as one sage put it 'never was and never will be."

And such a loving, caring government cannot be because it is contrary to human nature. Study the history of governments and you will see that every government's main concern will be its own welfare, its own survival and growth. All in the name of caring for you. And in the name of a moral concern for you it will demand more of the fruits of your labor (your cash), more obedience (they will call it compliance to regulations) and of course your vote.

The theme of Mr Henderson's editorial is that the value of government control is a morally superior value than the physical cost to taxpayers. Or to put it another way, when it comes to your welfare, government knows best.