Earlier this month a Utah man was arrested for shooting and killing his five month old son. It was a heinous act that garnered national attention and may end with him facing the death penalty. But what if this deranged man was just making a family choice after taking into consideration the quality of life that could be provided to his child? It wasn’t a decision made on a whim, but a very difficult one that took him weeks of agonizing before finally deciding upon. What if this was demonstrably the best choice for his family? What if, given the circumstances, it was the only morally responsible and loving choice he could have made?
Of course considerations of can the family afford the baby, or what kind of life can the family provide for the baby, have zero legal or moral standing when it comes to ending the child’s life. And rightfully so. Obviously so. It offends our very humanity to even entertain the question. But when engaged in discussions about abortion, you will undoubtedly hear some variation of what I call “the loving choice” argument.
The arguments go something like this. The baby will put undue strain on the family. Parents’ mental, physical, and fiscal health could be affected. There are harsh consequences to raising a child when you aren’t ready to do so, and sometimes parents make the “loving choice” to not put a child through the difficulties of being raised in what is often terrible circumstances. Who are you to judge this agonizing, difficult choice a parent is forced to make for the benefit of the whole family?
But if you are horrified by the thought of the Utah man killing his five month old son because he knew he wasn’t able to care for him properly, why is it ok to kill a five week old son still inside his mother’s womb? If these choices can be made solely at the parents’ discretion, then ending a child’s life is a valid act for a parent to make so long as the child is dependent upon his parent for survival.
Which is why the “loving choice” argument is such a dangerous one. How we value life is extremely important for our society. This is not mere philosophical theorizing. You may have heard of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor on trial for murder after authorities discovered one of his abortion patients died under his care, but also because when performing abortions and a baby was accidentally delivered alive, he would snip through the back of their neck, severing their spines in order to complete the life ending abortion. Somehow killing the baby while it was still inside her mother’s womb was legal, doing it after she left the womb was not. You may be surprised that Dr. Gosnell’s pro choice view was also the “loving choice” one:
“As a physician, I am very concerned about the sanctity of life. But it is for this precise reason that I provide abortions for women who want and need them.”
Women from all over came to Dr. Gosnell’s clinic because here was a man who didn’t ask questions. Here was a man who understood that sometimes “abortion is the most morally responsible and loving choice we can make.”
But it’s not just sleazy, murderous abortion doctors who advocate this position. It’s world renowned Princeton ethics professors. It’s a position published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, where two medical academics create the new term “after-birth abortion” and argue that everyone knows there’s no difference between an infant and a fetus, and therefore infanticide is a perfectly acceptable action for parents to take. It’s a position defended by the editor of the ethics Journal by saying,
“The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world”
The most eminent ethicists in the world have taken the “loving choice” abortion position and extended it to its inevitable conclusion: parents know best what they can handle and what they cannot. Babies, whether born or unborn, are not fully human and can often represent serious hardship to their parents. Joshua Mortenson, the man who killed his five month old son, shouldn’t be jailed for making a terribly difficult choice you and I may never have to face.
Who are we to judge?
A major goal of national health care policy makers has been reducing the number of uninsured. This is why Obamacare began as single payer, moved to a public option, and finally settled on Medicaid expansion. This insurance-centric policy push is simply wrongheaded.
The biggest problem with our health care system is rapidly rising costs. Though it’s tailed off a bit the last few years, health care cost growth still outpaces inflation, and insurance premium cost growth far outpace wage increases, putting a major crimp on household budgets. But simply transforming the government into a giant insurance company doesn’t address those fundamental problems.
The transfer of who pays for health care, whether through private insurance or through government, has been a long process. In 1960 a health care consumer – you and I – paid 48% of our health care costs. Today, it’s just 12%. So who pays for it today? Private insurance picks up 30% of the tab. But the government has been the biggest mover, paying for only 24% in 1960 and rising all the way to 48% today.
Think about that. Government, with its price fixing and rigid treatment plans, accounts for almost half of all the health care purchased in this country. And yet policy makers would have us believe the “free market” is the problem.
Over the last 50 years we’ve flipped how health care is paid on its head, and have seen costs rise exponentially. Shouldn’t that set off alarm bells? At the very least a raised eyebrow?
Perhaps most frustrating is that we were warned. We had the data to predict this outcome years ago.
The largest health care study ever was conducted during the 1970s by the nonprofit RAND Corporation. Researchers studied health care outcomes and purchasing behavior of people with free health care and those who paid varying degrees of their health care out of pocket. What they found is equal parts astounding and quite obvious.
First, the obvious part. The group that paid 95% of their own health care costs spent 30% less than the group who got their health care for free. Which of course makes sense.
But what today’s policy makers would have you believe is that when people pay for their own health care they put off wellness check ups and preventative services which results in more serious illnesses and costs later on. But today’s policy makers are wrong.
Researchers found that the 95% health care payer group not only spent 30% less, but they were just as healthy as the people who had all their health care paid for. In fact, they were just as healthy, just as happy with their providers, used fewer services, and were actually less worried about their health than people who paid nothing.
Doesn’t that sound like a desirable health care policy outcome? Happy, healthy, stress free patients. And a 30% cost reduction to boot! Not to mention a whole lot less hassling with insurance companies.
Tragically, the ACA and its corresponding Medicaid expansion does the exact opposite. Its overriding goal is adding more layers of insurance companies and government sponsored free health care, locking in that needless, wasteful 30% spending increase.
We’ve spent the last five decades ignoring the science behind spending on medicine, and now we’re stuck swallowing the bitter pill of skyrocketing costs. But there is a cure. We need to refuse the ACA’s mandated Medicaid expansion, unwind the dizzying regulatory health care environment, and promote policies that simplify the relationship between you and your doctor.
This was the question posed to me (and others) this week. Are laws moral? Should they be?
A libertarian answered the question by saying some laws are moral, but the only rule to go by when setting laws is,
“Does the activity to be banned/regulated *directly* harm innocent third persons?”
On the surface, this seems like a solid answer. One I’ve probably agreed with at some point. If I want to engage in an activity which does no harm to anyone else, it is my right to do so. If I contract with another person, and the activity is agreed upon and mutually beneficial to the both of us, and this activity does no harm to a third-party, then we have the right to do so.
This seems pretty cut and dried, which is why it’s such an enticing political philosophy. It seems to be the foundation of libertarianism, and creeps into Republican rhetoric as well. But it leads libertarians to uncomfortable places. Prostitution, for one. If two people contract to engage in that activity, who else has the right to tell them they can’t? For me, it’s always been self-evident that prostitution should not be legal. But I never really articulated why. Ironically, it was a famous libertarian who provided me the means to explain.
In an econtalk.org podcast last May David Schmidtz and Russ Roberts discussed noted libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, and his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Schmidtz then told a fascinating story of a dinner he shared with Nozick in 1999. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick had argued that if a man needed money and contracted to sell himself into slavery to get it, then he was within his rights to do so. But at this dinner, Nozick said he had softened his stance on this point. Here’s how Schmidtz tells it:
I said that in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Now fast forward, and I’m thinking about symbolic value. And I’m thinking: countries don’t just do things, like defend freedom or not, or secure freedom or not, secure freedom of contract or not. They also stand for things. And at some point, America’s supposed to be the country that doesn’t just defend freedom. It stands for freedom. And I thought, if this is going to be the country that stands for freedom, allowing the emergence of a class of slaves, that’s not a really impressive way of standing for freedom. In fact, it’s not a really successful way of standing for freedom. And so he thought, he said: I came to the conclusion that it matters what a country stands for. And so, even though this is, in a truncation of freedom of contract and the sacrosanct status, individual status, of contractors–he said–I came to think there’s an importance of standing for freedom; and in view of that I gave up on the idea that people should be allowed to sell themselves into slavery, even voluntary slavery.
Countries stand for things. Society stands for things. Simply saying, as long as an activity doesn’t harm an innocent third-party then that activity is fine, isn’t enough any more. Suddenly morality, virtue, comes into play. We can legislate away voluntary slavery because it violates our morality. Consequently, we have a basis for creating moral laws. When we are asked, should laws be based on morals, we answer with a resounding YES.
Perhaps even more fascinating to me is how Nozick’s thoughts on freedom, and protecting freedom, led him to advocate a public policy that many of his philosophical descendants would claim restricts freedom. In the above story he’s quoted as saying that creating a class of slaves not only would conflict with the idea of standing for freedom, but that “it’s not a really successful way of standing for freedom.” In other words, if we allow people the freedom to sell themselves, freedom is inevitably destroyed. Slavery, prostitution, drug use, alcohol abuse – all of these destroy freedom. As such, promoting their legality in the name of protecting freedom is counter productive. Why do we restrict or regulate activities which on the surface appear to hurt no one but themselves? Because freedom demands it.
The Sundance Film Festival is starting again soon, and some recent chatter online got me curious about its financials. Sundance is a non profit organization, so it solicits and accepts donations to fund its operations. But how well off is the non profit? How much revenue does it get from the festival itself? The most recent financial information I could find is from the 2011 festival. That year they made $9 million from the film festival, $16 million from donations, and another million on earnings from investments and the like. Their expenses were $24 million, giving them a $3.5 million profit.
Their balance sheet shows $10 million in cash, $10 million in additional promised donations, and $14 million in investments. Clearly, the Sundance Film Festival is a vibrant, fiscally sound organization.
So why did they receive over a million dollars in government funding?
On page nine of the form 990 they filed with the IRS it states the Sundance Institute received $1.3 million in “government grants”. I don’t know which government agencies comprise that $1.3 million. But a search on transparent.utah.gov shows the state of Utah gave $316,000 in 2012, $319,000 in 2011, $216,000 in 2010, and $190,000 in 2009. that’s over a million dollars in the last four years.
It’s possible that some of that money paid for advertising at the festival. It would make sense for the state to promote itself to festival goers in an effort to boost tourism. But it doesn’t appear that a whole lot of official Utah promotion is going on during the film festival. And on the state’s website the payments are labeled as “grants”, which leads me to believe that’s exactly what they are – a direct subsidy to a fiscally sound, multi million dollar enterprise whose financial statements reveal they certainly don’t need the money.
One could argue that Utah gets a big bang for its buck by hosting the festival. Some estimate Sundance brings in $80 million to the state’s economy. But wouldn’t Utah get that $80 million regardless? Sundance isn’t barely scraping by and in desperate need of state funding to stay afloat. We could easily put that money to more productive uses and still receive the financial benefit Sundance represents.
If the state’s Office of Economic Development is looking to grow Utah business and economy, certainly there’s a better place to use all those grant funds than an already well established, growing, and self sufficient multi million dollar enterprise like the Sundance Institute.
With the election now over, here is what we need from our duly elected representatives going forward:
Economy – We’ve been in a holding pattern for four years. We cannot allow 8% unemployment to become the new normal. We need to stop bailing out companies and industries we fear are too big to fail. It’s our bailout culture that is at least partially responsible for the mess we’re in to begin with, and there is far too much cronyism and rent seeking when the federal government starts picking which companies get to survive. This goes for stimulus as well. Over the last six years we’ve run from place to place doling out bailout and stimulus money, enriching a few well-connected players and sticking ourselves with historically anemic GDP and job growth.
Finally, stop kissing up to Wall Street. Four years ago president Obama was elected partly to stand up to those who caused the financial crisis. Instead, he used TARP to protect those very same people. And it came at the expense of homeowners and the economy as a whole. Dodd-Frank is a behemoth that adds regulatory complexity while not solving the too big to fail problem. It may even have made it worse.
Health Care – By far the biggest problem with our health care is rising cost. Unfortunately, Obamacare didn’t fix the problem. It expanded coverage and played at the margins, but it amounts to a band-aid to the system and will make the rising cost burden worse, not better. Rising costs show up in ever higher insurance premiums which burden household budgets, but it also threatens to engulf the entire federal budget. In 2008 Medicare started paying out more in benefits than it takes in, and is projected to do so for the rest of its existence. Think about that for a moment. While we worry about current year $1 trillion deficits and a $16 trillion debt, if we don’t fix health care costs, then by the time I retire and when my kids are grown the federal government will only have enough revenue to pay a few entitlement programs and interest on its debt. That leaves nothing for defense, energy, education, or anything else we currently expect our government to do. Solutions to our health care problem are not one of how many people are covered by insurance, or what things insurance companies should cover. It is about reducing rising costs. If our elected officials talk about anything else in regards to health care reform, they’re not being serious.
Deficit & Debt – See above. 65% of our federal budget goes towards entitlement spending. In 1970 it was less than half that. Any serious discussion of balancing the budget has to include entitlement spending, specifically health care cost control. Every other discussion is just nibbling at the edges.
Education – The demographic group hardest hit by the recession is those with no more than a high school education. And high school dropout rates are flat at best, and rising at worst. As our economy becomes more globalized and tech heavy, more and more jobs require specific skills. If we continue to support a poor education system which doesn’t prepare us for the world we live in, and if we keep filling our employee pool with the uneducated, then we will continue to have high unemployment rates, high social program spending, and employers unable to fill open positions.
Income Inequality – The two years with the highest percentage income inequality of the last 100 years? 1929 and 2007. The years following those peaks were not pleasant. For whatever reason, even as the overall income pie grows and everyone gets better off, bad things happen when the top income gap gets too high. Though the recession has lowered the gap to where it’s now lower than any year of Clinton’s second term, this issue should be on our minds as we make policy. I think fixing the problems I discuss here will go a long way towards addressing inequality.
Family – The US poverty rate has been basically stagnant since the 60s despite numerous and expensive efforts to reduce it. But if you look deeper at the poverty numbers, you find that every single demographic group’s rate of poverty has fallen sharply over this time. So why hasn’t the overall number dropped? Because of the destruction of the two parent family. The poverty rate for single parent households is a whopping 40%, three times the overall rate. Sadly, the percentage of people living in families where the head of household is a single woman has doubled since 1967. A year ago I wrote,
80% of kids in families which earn less than $15,000 a year only have one parent in the home. Families making over $75,000 are the mirror opposite. And research suggests our school systems are no match for the disadvantages these kids are faced with in terms of cognitive skills not developed because of poor early childhood experiences.
So long as our society’s families continue to decline, no amount of welfare spending, education spending, or job training programs will be enough. We must look with a critical eye any program or incentive we have which damages families.
These are the issues and policies most critical to fixing our present situation and laying a solid foundation for the future. When people talk about coming together after the election and reaching across the aisle in order to get things done, this is what I see. These are the issue that both the electorate and the elected should be focusing on.
The number one issue facing our country is federal spending and its resulting debt, particularly entitlement spending and the unfunded promises our Congress has stacked a mile high. Dan Liljenquist is the only candidate in the Utah senate race who has shown the courage to fix entitlement spending. His conservative bona fides are beyond reproach.
There is one group in Utah who claims to differ. They call themselves Grassroots Utah, and they’ve been issuing grades to the Utah Legislature since 1992. They’ve given Dan Liljenquist a lifetime score of just 63%. This score includes a supposedly inexcusable 50% in 2009.
Despite their longevity, I’d never even heard of Grassroots Utah until just a few weeks ago. Consequently, I’ve spent some time taking a close look at their data and methodology.
Out of 800 bills introduced each year, Grassroots chooses 20 to score, or 2.5% of the bills. One of the first things I noticed was that, on these handful of votes at least, our overwhelmingly conservative legislature also overwhelmingly disagrees with Grassroots. The lifetime score of the legislature as a whole is just 54%. Governor Jon Huntsman’s paltry score of 39% dwarfs that of our noted “liberal” governor Mike Leavitt, who accumulated a lifetime 27% rating. Governor Leavitt was reelected in 1996 with the largest vote total in state history, was only the second Utah governor elected to a third term, and was a hugely popular conservative governor for a full decade. If he couldn’t crack even the 30% mark in Grassroots’ ranking, something is seriously wrong. Perhaps even more telling is that when a handful of Utah’s most conservative legislators organized the Patrick Henry Caucus a few years ago, one of its founding members had a lifetime score of just 58%. In other words, the most conservative members of our conservative legislature can’t even get a passing grade. That is head scratching to say the least.
A close look at their 2009 report reveals why Grassroots’ rankings don’t make much sense.
House Bill 12 was the first vote on which Grassroots differed with Dan Liljenquist. Dan voted for it and Grassroots dinged him on it. The bill requires that county sheriffs actually be certified police officers. Not surprisingly, it passed with 76% of the vote, and even had the support of Grassroots’ second highest rated Senator. It’s a common sense, conservative bill with overwhelming conservative support. Yet Grassroots would have voted no.
Another glaring example is Senate Bill 16. It gave our police more tools to combat gang activity. It passed on a 25-2 vote, and the only two no votes were from Democrats. Yet this is supposed to prove Liljenquist isn’t conservative? It simply does not make any sense.
As I went through the last few years of rankings, these bills were just two examples of an overriding theme. On the great majority of votes, Grassroots is on the opposite side of mainstream, conservative Utahns. And not only that, but they somehow inexplicably failed to include two of the most fiscally conservative bills to come out of the Utah Legislature in the last three years. The 2010 pension reform bill saved the state $400 million per year, for two and half decades. The 2011 Medicaid reform bill is projected to save the state $770 million over the first seven years alone. These two bills helped Dan Liljenquist garner numerous legislative awards, including being named the Taxpayer Advocate of the Year two consecutive years and Governing magazine’s Public Official of the Year.
These reforms were touted in national conservative publications like the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online and held up as models of conservative fiscal reform for the rest of the country to follow. And yet somehow these aren’t even included on a local conservative rating scorecard? When respected, nationally renowned conservatives and conservative policies can’t get passing grades, clearly something is amiss with the Grassroots scorecard.
This is one of my favorite exchanges from the Senate debate a few weeks ago. The question was directed to Senator Hatch, asking how his constituents can trust him to provide fiscal leadership when he’s voted for many things which expanded government spending.
I liked it because it got past simple campaign rhetoric and looked at real issues. Hatch’s response was that he has long been a sponsor of the balanced budget amendment – a standard campaign talking point of his. But when the candidates got down to actual policy, Hatch defended his spendthrift votes because in his words they “helped a lot of people.”
This produced perhaps the best line of the night when Dan Liljenquist said, “you can’t hold up the balanced budget amendment in one hand and then pass legislation which makes it impossible in the other hand.”
For me, the exchange highlights the differences between the Hatch of the campaign trail and the Hatch on the finance committee. Campaign Hatch inspires with conservative rhetoric, but struggles to defend the spending record of Finance Committee Hatch.
Contrast that with Dan Liljenquist’s record. As a freshman senator he tackled state entitlement reform head on and saved the state from a $6.5 billion pension shortfall. Had we done nothing, it would have cost the state 10,000 teachers. It was efforts like this that had the Deseret News calling Dan “the Utah legislature’s champion of long-term structural fiscal reform.”
It wasn’t easy. Pension reform is fought against every step of the way. But Dan knew the raw data, built coalitions, and got a substantive budget saving bill passed anyway. When the dust settled, the Deseret News singled Dan out as the “best evidence courage still exists in politics.”
Our Congress has a 13% approval rating. And I firmly believe it’s because those representing us lack the one thing we all crave: Courage. We’re tired of the rhetoric and partisan game playing. It’s time to elect leaders in Washington who are there to solve problems, not score political points. It’s time we had representation with the courage to tackle the hard issues of our day. I believe Dan is that leader because he has the record to prove it.
Senator Hatch has been in Washington for a long time. As you’ve attended his events and watched him in the debates you notice that he is running for reelection almost exclusively on that basis. Recently, the Salt Lake Tribune asked a state delegate about his choice in the Senate race. He responded, “if Washington is broken, why would we keep sending the same people back there to fix it?” I agree wholeheartedly. I want leadership in Washington, not just time served.