David Brooks concluded a piece, “The Freedom Alliance,” calling for a mass movement to cut Social Security and Medicare:
“It’s not only about debt; it’s about freedom. It’s about whether we get to make budget choices or whether we have our lives dictated by the inexorable growth of programs beyond our control.”
Wow, I’ve got “God Bless America” going on the stereo and I’m getting out my marching clothes!
Brooks better hope that the masses march before they think, because if the sequence goes in the other direction, the march will never happen. As everyone knows, there is no story of programs with out of control costs.
The whole story is of out of control health care costs. This is a problem of a broken private sector health care system. This becomes a budget problem because we pay for more than half of our health care through public sector programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If per person health care costs in the United States were the same as in any of the countries with longer life expectancies, we would be looking at huge budget surpluses, not deficits.
The evidence would suggest that Brooks’ mass movement should be directed at reforming our health care cesspool. We pay 10 times what we should for prescription drugs because of our absurd method of financing research through government granted patent monopolies. This government intervention gives an enormous incentive for drug companies to lie about the effectiveness and safety of their drugs, something which they do with considerable frequency. There is a similar story with medical devices.
Our doctors also get paid far more than doctors in other wealthy countries. This is not true for our retail clerks and our steelworkers. The reason is that our doctors enjoy much greater protection from international competition than less politically powerful workers. If Brooks, who fashions himself as a free trader, really wanted to get our deficit under control, he would be revving people up to reduce the barriers that sustain the high salaries for doctors in the United States.
Brooks could also be trying to motivate people to support a Medicare buy in that could save hundreds of billions in administrative costs over the next decade. Or, in keeping with his “freedom” theme, how about just giving Medicare beneficiaries the option to buy into other countries’ health care systems with the beneficiary and the government splitting the savings. This one is all about freedom — let our beneficiaries go!
So, the basic question is whether we confront the powerful interest groups who profit from our broken and corrupt health care system or whether we beat up the retired and disabled workers who depend on Social Security and Medicare. David Brooks told us where he stands.
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