Feb 042012
 

In the NHS, there two main activities. One is helping sick people. The other is measuring, improving, correcting, extending, and promoting how well sick people are helped. Much energy is expended on the first activity: technical advances, new pharmaceuticals, further training for doctors and nurses in new ways to help sick people. But the more you read about the NHS, the more you get the feeling that a lot more energy is expended on the second activity.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this; even in a business, delivering the product or service to customers is straightforward, if not always easy, and the bulk of business energy is expended on how to improve the product or service, how to measure whether or not it’s good, strategy for getting it in front of the market, selling it, and so forth. Large numbers of people are employed to do these things, and a lot of money is spent in doing them—money that is generated by the delivery side, both by delivering the goods and by finding new ways to reduce inputs and increase outputs. Greater productivity means greater profits, which can be taken home as pay or ploughed back into the rest of the business.

The difference between a business and the NHS, however, is that issue of money. Money is the simplest metric for business success: how much are we making? Allocating money in a business is also fairly simple: wages, tools, marketing, infrastructure, tax, in varying proportions, and what’s left over goes to the shareholders. And if the metric drops—we are making less money—the allocations drop too. Therefore business responds to money.

The NHS, on the other hand, doesn’t respond to money, because it doesn’t make any. You can argue whether this is an intrinsic function of what it does—healthcare—and you can even argue the ethical toss about measuring something as important as health by looking at money, but you can’t get away from the fact that the NHS has something to do with money, because helping sick people has a cost.

The NHS is sort of halfway in the market. It doesn’t directly charge its customers for its services, so it can’t respond to the “how much are we making?” money question. But it still has to answer “how do we allocate it?” and “what do we do if we have less to allocate?” Doctors and nurses don’t work for free, so it still has to think about wages. Medical supply manufacturers don’t manufacture for free—they are businesses, so they have to worry about how much money they’re making—and infrastructure has to be paid for as well. The NHS has all of the business problems of spending money, and none of the tidy business solution of earning it.

So when, in the NHS, the costs grow and/or the pool of money to spend shrinks, the sector has to find pseudo-business solutions to deal with this problem. “Pseudo” because what businesses do is frequently not an option for the NHS. For instance, a business could produce more goods or services. The NHS can’t do this, because it’s really unethical to go round trying to make people sick so that you can cure them more, but also because the NHS’s primary service—helping sick people—is actually a cost, and doesn’t make them any money. For the same reason, they can’t look for new markets like a business would, but also because the market for the NHS is already every person in Britain. Other solutions are simply odious. The NHS can borrow money, but their collateral isn’t private, so they end up mortgaging the public good. The NHS can ask patients to pay—private patients, or foreigners—but this invalidates the ideology that health shouldn’t depend on wealth. They can ask the government to raise taxes, but that’s a PR nightmare, and the existence of the NHS depends on people’s loyalty and goodwill.

So the NHS has only one option, and that is to reallocate its spending. Reduce the number of doctors and nurses treating the sick people, and thus lower the wage bill. Find cheaper suppliers, and thus lower the tools bill. Hire cheaper builders to patch up the estate, and thus lower the infrastructure bill. Use what you’ve saved to increase marketing healthy lifestyles, and hopefully the number of sick people will drop, and through all of these increases in productivity (in the NHS, it’s called “efficiency”), maybe you can break even, or even turn a profit (in the NHS, it’s called a “surplus”).

In the NHS, you can also do rain dances, make offerings, and perform collective prayer rituals that the UK economy flourishes enough for tax receipts to go up, giving the government the power to increase your budget again.

Unfortunately, all of these things make for a cumbersome and difficult-to-run healthcare system. Sacking nurses looks evil, and makes life harder for the other nurses. This, and using cheaper supplies, can literally endanger people’s lives. Infrastructure creaks as it gets older, and the population rapidly outgrows the limited space. Paying staff, suppliers, and contractors less reduces tax receipts. And public-health marketing is notoriously ineffective.

So what the hell do you do, if you’re the NHS? Do you say, “Fuck it, this half-business life is no life at all—let’s act like a real business and charge people money. Then if they pay us, we know we’re doing a decent job”? This doesn’t even have to mean that poor people die in the streets, because the government could just give them the money to buy their healthcare.

No. Instead, you bitch and moan and look for Rube-Goldberg-esque solutions to act as proxies for normal market behaviour. And then you can see why helping sick people is the least of what goes on in the NHS.

Let us consider, for example, the Health Service Journal, the premier trade journal for non-medical NHS staff. Does it have anything to do with awesome new and better ways of helping sick people? Does it fuck. It is Rube Goldberg literature for the Rube Goldberg system.

This week’s stories include:

(1) The way to improve the NHS’s effectiveness and efficiency is to set up an independent standing commission to look into the matter.

(2) Outsourcing middle management can, in ideal circumstances, reduce “overspend” (in the business world, “losses”).

(3) Medical unions are concerned that competition will lead to health “inequality.”

(4) A government quango will judge who is allowed to help sick people.

(5) The same quango prioritise patients over creditors when it puts private providers out of business by disallowing them from helping sick people.

(6) The same quango shouldn’t give NHS bodies credit ratings for borrowing purposes, because credit ratings are not an appropriate proxy for how well sick people are helped.

(7) Another government quango will measure how well sick people are helped by a series of inspections centred on 100 performance metrics.

(8) Another government quango will judge which GPs are allowed to buy healthcare from the NHS for sick people, but it will need management consultant help to do this.

(9) The GPs will also need to be helped to create a QIPP strategy. (QIPP stands for “quality, innovation, prevention, productivity.”)

(10) Publication of how well these 100 metrics are met may lead to health “inequality.”

(11) However, not publishing these data, because they are impossible to collect and monitor, is also unacceptable.

(12) PCTs can close down their competition but only if they don’t ask doctors whether or not they should do it.

(13) A commission will investigate whether imposing fines for making people sick with C. difficile will hurt hospitals.

(14) Some middle managers are unhappy about spending money, time, and energy on healthy lifestyle programmes for staff.

(15) Patients need a better way to complain about the quality of help they received when they were sick.

(16) In order to do all of this stuff, there needs to be a strategy for staff engagement.

(17) There also needs to be a strategy for adopting helpful technology.

And my personal favourite:

(18) “Salford Royal Foundation Trust’s clinical leaders development programme is part of an emerging organisational development strategy to engage senior medical staff in the business of clinical leadership and develop their talent.”

So there you have it. Because the NHS cannot measure how well it provides its service—helping sick people—by the money it makes from its customers, it has to invent Byzantine proxies, implemented and assessed with great energy and at enormous cost, none of which have anything to do with helping the sick people.

And why? Because this tremendous waste of time, money, talent, and human capital is preferred as a more humane outcome than letting sick people hand over money directly in order to get better.

Sep 112011
 

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, p. 269:

If I could increase gradually the rate of VAT to 19 or even 20 per cent, I could scrap the National Insurance increase. I could compensate low earners with a package of measures to negate the impact of the VAT increase. On top of that, I could surprise people by cutting both the basic rate of income tax and corporation tax in order to boost growth. I tried this out with Gordon, but was met with an emphatic no. I talked to both Peter and Ed Balls, trying to convince them that we needed something big if we were to come out of this with any momentum at all. While Peter this time had an open mind, Gordon and Ed remained implacably opposed to the VAT increase. There was nothing more I could do, so we stuck with the tax measures previously announced.

Two years later, and thanks to Brown and Balls, not only do we still have their increased NI and income taxes, we also have 20% VAT.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a fucking bunch.

Jun 192011
 

Guest post by Trixy

We’re still fighting in Libya, still racking up the costs, still insisting we’re doing it to protect civilians and not for regime change. No, definitely not regime change, because that’s what Tony Blair did, the war monger, and this coalition is nothing like him, right?

Well, one thing’s for sure, and that’s that neither of them have or had a legal mandate from the United Nations Security Council to invade another country. Blair and his team may insist that they did, but for those of us who can, and who chose to, read the documents from the Security Council at that time, we know he was pulling a fast one. The US Ambassador John Negroponte insisted that UNSCRs 687 and 1441 were sufficient for war, and yet the Council were told by others that the latter was ‘not a smoking gun,’ and another resolution would be required before military action could legally occur.

UNSCR 1973 was for the protection of civilians and to maintain peace and security in the region. The latter is the reason that force can be used, under Chapter VII articles in the UN Charter. So is the bombing and killing of Gaddafi necessary to achieve this, without capture and a trial? Airstrikes destroy in a way that a crack team of soldiers performing a raid don’t. Sophisticated missiles can target but not so well as an SA80 MkII or an M16. So will Gaddafi find himself the victim of yet another airstrike in the name of supporting a group of his opponents whom we know nothing about, with whom senior figures in the Ministry of Defence are nervous of being involved? Will Gaddafi’s final moments be as a non-speaking extra in Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘The Naughty Dictator’ as his body is dumped into Davy Jones’ locker?

The details of what is going on and what will happen are being discussed in COBRA and the bowels of the MoD.

And what we’re hearing about now is Syria.

Hague has ruled out military action, yet the UK and France last week presented a draft UN resolution condemning Syria’s suppression of protests. China and Russia fear, understandably given recent history, that this is the first step towards yet more international intervention by the men in Disruptive Pattern Material. And certainly the calls for the end to violence must ring hollow in the ears of not only the Syrians, who see another group of civilians appearing worthy of ‘protection,’ but also those relatives of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre who had heard such platitudes before.

For whilst Mladic faces trial for genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity after 16 years of evading discovery, we are reminded of what peacekeeping forces not only allowed, but were forced to allow to happen. And we should remind ourselves of why the murder of 8000 Muslim men and boys occurred in this ‘safe area.’

The answer comes down to our rules of engagement, which did not permit the use of weapons to protect civilians. And Mladic and his men knew that, and thus made a mockery of any ‘peacekeeping’ which UN forces were supposed to be undertaking.

So what I am expecting from William Hague, if he does go back on his promise of no military intervention (something few would be surprised about if he did, I suspect), is fewer words and more action. It’s a tough call for the international community not to look like hypocrites, and if we know one thing about politicians, it’s that they value their reputations/egos very highly.

What we need, if we are going to shoulder the cost of more troop deployments and continue to view ourselves as being in the company of World Policemen, is more permissive rules of engagement. Otherwise Hague, Cameron and their successors are simply offering false hopes and empty posturing to a scared population. And we are wasting our money.

Of course, given MoD cuts, farcical procurement policy, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, whether we should be getting involved in Syria is a question for another day. But another day soon.

Oct 142010
 

Guest post by Evander Diarmand

The federal government of the United States is, through a practice of perpetual borrowing, on the verge of financial collapse. This is widely decried in media and among citizens to varying degrees but little is done to waylay the rampant expenditure of borrowed funds. These loans, derived from foreign states and from the banks of the Federal Reserve Board, are currently the primary source of revenue for the federal state. The United States Constitution establishes no clear limit on the purposes for which the federal state may incur such debt nor does it limit the extent thereof. Consequently, the congress has taken advantage of the omission to further its political aims both variously and collectively. This self-perpetuating debt—both a threat to the national security and to the integrity of the federated union—has been a common feature in American politics for decades; to the extent that citizens widely accept it as typical. Despite its ubiquity and the number of people employed by debt-funded government bureaus and agencies, this practice is onerous. It is the primary threat to the republic today and must be stopped even if drastic action is required.

Financial management is widely regarded by contemporary society as drudgery—it is a necessary task but bland and thankless. Most people avoid the subject and procrastinate when they face financial difficulties. The general atmosphere of distaste for accounting is amplified enormously in the public spheres of society: several American states ignored the problem and are on the verge of bankruptcy. By many accounts, attaining solvency for these states cannot be postponed. In the federal government, even this eleventh-hour urgency is nonexistent because the federal government derives its funds in a manner all together obscure; a manner which is certainly extra-legal for any single state to attempt. The federal government did not acquire this ability accidentally. The entire history of central government in America, when examined broadly, is a series of legislation and court decisions which have gradually allowed more varied sources of revenue for the central authority and fewer restrictions thereon. The Articles of Confederation famously established the most restrictive rules for revenue generation and it is widely agreed the founders drafted the US Constitution primarily to remedy this perceived flaw. Under the Constitution, the federal apparatus has grown rapidly as court precedent has become increasingly liberal in judgments addressing federal revenue. The twentieth century has seen the greatest expansion of federal sources of revenue while the infrequent judicial impediments have been superseded either by legislation or constitutional amendment. The federal state, its appetite for money apparently insatiable, has perfected the skill of marketing even the most outrageous proposals for generating revenue—some egregiously unconstitutional—to the American populace.

What is the aim of the congress that they must constantly seek new sources of revenue? The answer is simple: Power. And they never have enough. It is likely not a conscious decision to dominate American society or undermine the republic but rather a collective understanding among federal officials that having power is preferable to sharing it. Power, for a congressman, is in controlling the purse. The more revenue they collect, the more control and popularity they can maintain throughout the various states. For instance, taxation of the states or the people never decreases. This means the federal government increasingly controls the collective income and expenditure of the American people simply because so much of our currency goes through their hands. What they collect is held until the congress finds a political motivation to redistribute it. Obviously, those who benefit from this redistribution will lend aid politicians who willing to enact it. When enough congressmen find it politically advantageous to subsidize an industry, agency, or a state, they make pacts with congressmen (often of the “opposition”) who wish to spend it to further their own careers.* Thus, the money is returned to the economy and artificially adheres to certain regions or economic sectors. This is the nature of the modern tyranny. It is a political culture of patronage, inherently plutocratic: because federal revenue is seemingly endless, begging for a share of that revenue has become a lucrative profession for the silver-tongued** and political power has gravitated to the center rather than being diffused throughout the union. Unsatisfied with controlling the money of the American states and their citizens, the federal government has in recent decades turned to borrowing as their principal monetary leverage.

This represents a terrible danger because, today, congress distributes far more than it collects to a degree unimaginable to most Americans. The imbalance is so severe that borrowing has replaced taxation as the primary source of revenue. Our current political system as it is practiced today can only continue if the government borrows endlessly. This has created a paradox: taxation’s only purpose in this system is the payment of interest on federal debt. To elaborate, the federal government has become so gluttonous for revenue that it borrows against the debt itself and struggles to pay off the interest at all. Raising taxes will only delude congressmen into believing they can maintain charade while lowering them will only deepen the debt. Their hunger for revenue has drained the Treasury, Social Security, and anywhere else money sat unused or in trust. They have borrowed from nations around the world and from the Federal Reserve so much for so long that the books would be incomprehensible to even the most talented accountant. It is dangerous because, if for no other reason, it deludes Americans into believing loans and income are the same thing.

The real danger, however, is the source of the borrowed money. Because the federal government is borrowing against debt (and therefore the American people’s money itself) it has created the possibility of catastrophic “foreclosure.” China (among many others states) and the banks of the Federal Reserve essentially own the federal government. And its net worth does not even come close to what it owes. These are some of the most powerful entities on earth and they have the potential to subjugate our federal government. Further, the economy of our nation, far from recovering after the 2007 decline, is in danger of descending into deepest stagflation. The congress’s heedless borrowing compelled the Federal Reserve to perform the greatest feat of illusion in human history: they have separated currency from any kind of value whatsoever and in so doing have been an example for power-hungry governments worldwide. Their monetary policy defies explanation and justification. When the congress needs money, the Federal Reserve quite literally creates it out of nothing and lends it to our government. These loans are borrowed against debt and must be repaid with interest despite being imaginary money. Income tax exists for no other reason than to prevent the federal government from being sucked into this monetary singularity. All the while, the Federal Reserve buys up more and more of our government with money that never existed.

This is not a clever piece of rhetoric meant to generate support for a party, and ideology, or a philosophy—the situation is truly dire. The US Constitution is consistently ignored and power no long derives from the states or the people. Powers now derives solely from money in the most direct literal sense. Our ideals and the republic created to maintain them are already gone. Elimination of the federal government’s unlimited power to collect and spend revenue is not a risk or gamble; it is a necessity if this union is to survive at all. Financial collapse is imminent—perhaps even with our lifetimes—if we continue to tinker with our tax code and limit ourselves to small spending cuts. Politicians and lobbyists caused the problem and are therefore incapable of solving it.

What is necessary for our prosperity and our security is inevitably painful: the largely idle but extremely expensive bureaucracy must be dismantled; the military empire must end; the power of congress to borrow must be severely limited; and the Constitution must be reinstated and amended to outlaw borrowing and new federal spending during a deficit. Most importantly, we must wrest control of our currency from the hands of the Federal Reserve. The downward spiral must be stopped—partisan elections, regulations, and lobbying will accomplish nothing unless we resign ourselves to the truth. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending. It is too late to solve this problem without damage to our economy and political infrastructure; this is the price of delay. We must accept that we will not always be rich, that we will not always be powerful, and that politics is poison. All we can do now is save our country.

*Believe me, none of them actually wants to prevent the spending all together.

** i.e. those who aren’t politicians.

May 162010
 

For some reason I have this corny idea that for a political party in Britain to stand a parliamentary candidate in a parliamentary constituency, that party has to pay £500 to… somebody. And he must win 5% of the vote if he wants that money back.

Therefore to have even the hope of securing a parliamentary majority, a political party has to stump up a minimum of £163,000. And until recently there has been very little point in aiming for less than a majority. (Pace the Lib Dems, the true winners of the recent election despite coming, er, third.)

Assuming this corny idea is at all accurate (and trust me, I hope to be corrected on this point of fact), the only possible justification for it is that somebody, somewhere wishes to discourage what we might call ‘frivolous’ candidacies. That is to say, nobody shall stand for parliament for giggles, else he or his party shall lose £500.

The average size of a parliamentary constituency in the UK is 70,000 voters, at least according to Wikipedia, of which 5% is 3,500.

If we apply average voter turnout for the nation to the constituencies themselves (a rough and dirty approximation to be sure), then of the potential 70,000 voters in each, only 45,500 of them actually voted in this most recent election – meaning that to secure his £500 deposit, a candidate actually need only about 2,275 votes.

It is very difficult to know ahead of time whether acquiring this number of votes is possible for a small-party candidates, and indeed many majorities (Ed Balls’s, for instance) are smaller than this amount.

But what I’m getting at vis a vis my corny idea is that somebody, somewhere in the British government has decreed that if you can’t get 2,275 people to vote for your ass, you must pay up, sucka.

And if we carry the arithmetic just a little bit further, we see that the British government has essentially assigned a monetary value to every vote, and that value for the recent election was approximately £0.22.*

I’d say that’s about right, wouldn’t you?

P.S. Does anybody know what party expenditure was during this past campaign? I’m interested to know because, at that value per vote, one would expect a Tory party spend of some £2.3m, a Labour party spend of about £2m, and a Lib Dem spend of about £1.5m. Does those numbers sound close to reality?

*Merci, Dan.

Feb 182010
 

Stephen Hill at CiF posits some kind of equivalency between Greece’s budget catastrophe, and the ensuing debate about whether the solvent EU countries should bail it out, and California’s budget catastrophe, and the debate about whether the solvent US states should bail it out.

Apparently Greece isn’t that large a proportion of the EU economy, so no big deal – but California represented a whopping 14% of the US economy before it went bust.

California’s situation in some ways is more worrisome than Greece’s. Having a state that is one-seventh of the national economy in dire straits is a threat to the nation’s economic recovery. It is analogous to having Germany struggling instead of Greece, striking at the heart of Europe. California has been shaken by widespread layoffs and furloughs – the city of Los Angeles just laid off 1,000 more workers – and core social programmes have been slashed. Millions of low income children have lost access to meal programmes, and community clinics have been closed. Almost 3 million low income adults have lost important benefits such as dental care, psychological services and mammograms.

In addition, while both California and Greece are in major belt tightening mode, at least in Greece all families and individuals still have access to healthcare and a long menu of other social supports that Europe is known for. In California, even before the crisis millions had no healthcare, and now more have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Unemployment compensation is miserly, as is the overall safety net, which impacts consumer spending and further weakens the economy.

In this case, then, it was terribly mean of the Obama administration to deny California a federal bail-out paid for by the taxes of the other 49 states. That’s, like, super unfair, because:

But ironically California’s current plight may serve as a warning to Germany and France. Over the last several decades, California’s once thriving economy served as a kind of backstop for other American states. California has subsidised low population (and often conservative) states by only receiving back about $.80 for every federal tax dollar it sends to Washington DC. Californians have sent tens of billions of dollars to conservative states such as Mississippi, Alaska and North Dakota, which receive about $1.75 for every dollar sent to Washington.

Yet when Governor Schwarzenegger asked the federal government for a return on that long-term support, the White House shut the door and the Republican states long subsidised by California were unsympathetic. Memories are short, as is gratitude.

Leaving aside the question of optimal single-currency zones – which Hill never addresses – let’s look at this central point about the unfairness of leaving California to its fate.

For years, Hill says, California was the wealthiest state in the country, and the federal taxes its wealthy citizens paid subsidised the poorer, less populous states of the union. Now California has farked itself, allowing and encouraging its legislature to spend the state into massive debt – and wealthy California wants the poorer states to subsidise it!

Surely this is exactly what Guardian writers (and readers) loathe, the idea of the poor subsidising the wealthy? They certainly profess to hate incidences of it in the UK and cry that the transfer of money from poor to rich is a massive injustice (that will, no doubt, be further perpetrated by the Tories if they win the next election). California’s budget crash has not made the poor states it used to subsidise any wealthier; in fact, it’s probably made them poorer. So why in the world should the poor states make themselves even poorer because the people of California were happy to elect legislatures that spend like drunken sailors?

Somebody please explain to me why, suddenly, the Guardian is in favour of the poor subsidising the rich.

Feb 182010
 

Nef is not calling for sudden or imposed change, but for a slow shift across the course of a decade or more. Wage increments can gradually be exchanged for shorter hours. There will be time to adjust incentives for employers, to discourage overtime, reduce costs per employee, to improve flexibility in ways that suit employees, and to extend training to offset skills shortages. There will be time to phase in a higher minimum wage and more progressive taxation, to change people’s expectations, and to adjust to low-carbon lifestyles that absorb more time and less money.

This plan makes no sense. Why do we need a higher minimum wage if we’re going to be spending so much less money on stuff? Where are the extra jobs going to come from if people are purchasing fewer goods and services? How many businesses will be available to hire people after you’ve bankrupted a bunch of them by forcing them to pay their employees more money for less work and by discouraging people from consuming the goods and services they produce?

In short, how stupid and totalitarian are you, really?

Seriously, just go away. Go away and stop telling me what to do.

Feb 152010
 

For those who attribute basically good and selfless motives to government, consider this logic:

This sort of argumentation reflects a general double standard of morality that is always applied to State rulers but not to anyone else. No one, for example, is surprised or horrified to learn that businessmen are seeking higher profits. No one is horrified if workers leave lower-paying for higher-paying jobs. All this is considered proper and normal behavior. But if anyone should dare assert that politicians and bureaucrats are motivated by the desire to maximize their incomes, the hue and cry of “conspiracy theorist” or “economic determinist” spreads throughout the land.

From Rothbard, For a New Liberty

Feb 022010
 

… to me. This blog is one year old today.

Via the Croydonian, this.

As bold plans go, this one is tres bold. Now obviously, districts within US states are redrawn after census so that each district contains roughly the same number of people.

But I have never heard anyone suggest that US states themselves should be redrawn after census so that each state contains roughly the same number of people. Considering that state boundaries are essentially arbitrary, I don’t find this particularly unreasonable. And it would certainly solve the problem of overweighted small-population states and overweighted large-population states.

However. For the moment, gerrymandering is limited to the states at the moment. Extending the temptation to gerrymander to the entire country, and putting that temptation squarely in the hands of the US Congress, is a very poor idea.

Additionally, redrawing state boundaries to make federal elections more efficient would play merry hell with state and local governments. In the US, state and local governments do actually do things, and are responsible for a great many competencies that would be sorely affected by altering the geographical perimeters of each state every ten years.

There is also the problem of revenues. Federal taxation would of course remain largely unaffected by this, but much of what state governments do is paid for by state taxation, be it sales, income, property, or some other form of levy. As you might expect, much of the wealth of the US is concentrated in urban areas and centers of high population, or else in areas where wealth-generating industries are located.

Look at the map provided:

redrawn states

This redrawing of states would create, I predict, revenue problems particularly in the South, which is the poorest region of the US already. The states labelled Pamlico, the Delta, Tombigbee, Brownia, and Pecos all represent the poorer areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. At the moment, these areas which generate little public revenue are all effectively subsidised by the wealthier parts of those states. Dallas and Houston especially pay for much of the public services in the rest of Texas. Redraw the boundaries in accordance with this map, and these poorer areas will see a drastic reduction in transport maintenance (roads especially), public education, and other state- and county-provided services such as law enforcement and rubbish removal. That, or they will be themselves subsidised by the federal government, putting them in hock to the rest of the nation like poor cousins fallen on hard times.

Now, one can argue that some of these competencies are things no government needs to provide, and maybe that’s true, but at the moment state governments do provide them, and there is little chance of that changing any time soon. The fact of the matter is that, at the moment, there are concentrations of wealth and population within states that enable those poorer areas to get by. Divide them from the sources of public revenue, and those poorer areas may become even more deprived. There is always a chance, I suppose, that those poorer areas might adopt reforms that would make them extremely attractive to businesses and industries, but experience (and cynicism) suggest that is unlikely.

Essentially, I do not think this is a good plan. It would be nice to have fairer and more efficient federal representation, but not at the cost of disrupting and in some cases even destroying the provision of state services.

Jan 212010
 

From the Telegraph:

Republican leaders in Congress called for a reworking of the bill, which would provide near universal coverage and aimed to bring down long-term costs. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, argued that because Massachusetts already had near-universal health coverage under a state law, the vote should not be seen as a referendum on the issue.

“We don’t say a state that already has health care should determine whether the rest of the country should. We will get the job done. I’m very confident,” she said.

It’s because Massachusetts already has just such a health care system as the one Pelosi’s Democrats are proposing that the opinion of their citizens is worth more than that of any other state’s.

They know what it’s like. They know what it costs. And they know that if the Democrats get their retarded bill passed, the citizens of Massachusetts will be paying through the nose twice.

That’s one of the great things about the federal system, you see: experiments can be tried in the states that want them, and the results can be judged by the rest of the country as either worth duplicating or worth abandoning. Massachusetts has done the experiment the Democrats would like to foist on the whole country. Not only have the other states looked at Massachusetts and said, ‘Dude, that doesn’t look like it’s working out so well, maybe we’d better not try it here,’ the people of Massachusetts themselves have said, ‘This isn’t going so well for us! Don’t try it at home!’

I reckon Nancy Pelosi should take a long, hard look at what’s happened to the healthcare system in Massachusetts, if for no other reason than because costs there have skyrocketed beyond all expectation, and seriously reconsider whether she wants to push the same money-suck on the entire rest of the nation.

Unless, of course, she wants to go down in history as the Politician Who Bankrupted America. Because you can bet your sweet buttocks it won’t be Obama who gets blamed. A man who can rise to president from two years’ experience of national office and prior experience in a Democrat safe seat and in a Democrat safe state’s legislature is more than canny enough to figure out a way to let some other poor bastard take the fall.