Saturday, June 30, 2012

Is Universal Suffrage a Good Thing?

First a clarification: “suffrage” means the right to vote; “universal suffrage” means the right for all adult citizens to vote.

I've wondered for a long time about the wisdom of universal suffrage, and finally I read about someone else thinking the same thing.  The linked post doesn't talk about any proposed alternatives, but does leave you expecting that any proposal would be to somehow limit suffrage to those who understood how democracy actually works. 

I don't much like that idea (though I wonder if it might not be better than universal suffrage), but for years I've been thinking about a different approach: making some people's votes count more than others.  I didn't have a name for it, but I coined one just now: “asymmetric suffrage”.  There are many ways one could construct such a system, but here's an example (not a serious proposal, mind you, but just an example to give you the gist of what I'm talking about).

Every adult starts with 1 vote, but various kinds of life experience and accomplishments could be used to modify that.  For example:

Multiplier   When
1.5            when you have owned a home for 10 years
2.0            if you honorably complete at least 4 years of military service
1.5            you obtain a college degree in engineering, medicine, science, or math
2.0            if you have been the owner of a business with 10 employees for 5 years
1.5            you reach the age of 40
2.0            you reach the age of 60
0.5            you are a public employee
0.5            you are on welfare
0.0            you are convicted of a felony (removed if pardoned or overturned)

For example, if you're a 45 year old engineer who has owned a business employing 50 people for 10 years, owned a home for 20 years, and served four years in the Army, your multiples would be:

1.0   that everyone starts with
2.0   for service in the Army
1.5   for your engineering degree
2.0   because of your business ownership
1.5   because you're over 40
9.0   the multiple of all the above; your vote would count as 9

Whereas, if you're 25 years old, have a degree in French literature, are on welfare (because you can't find a job), then your multiples would be:

1.0   that everyone starts with
0.5   because you're on welfare
0.5   the multiple of all the above; your vote would count as half a vote

Naturally there would be a huge debate about what the multiples should be.  Surely there must be some that we could all agree on, though, no matter what our political, religious, and intellectual leanings might be.  A multiple based on knowledge of how our democracy works (or doesn't!) might be an interesting addition.

Completely aside from the problem of getting anyone to agree with me that this is a good idea, there's another problem, a political one: this scheme couldn't possibly work without some reliable form of voter identification.

Thoughts, anyone?

How I'd Like to See Our Healthcare System Work...

I read a piece by Holman Jenkins this morning in the Wall Street Journal.  It introduces a new term I hadn't heard before that gave me a chuckle: “lip-commitment” – referring to politicians who have verbally committed to something, but haven't actually done it yet.  He also proposes a solution to this country's healthcare problems, via a relatively small tweak to ObamaCare:
Now just modify the Affordable Care Act so buying any health policy authorized by the new charter, no matter how minimalist, satisfies the employer and individual mandate.

What would follow is a boom in low-cost, high-deductible plans that leave individuals in charge of managing most of their ordinary health-care costs out of pocket. Because it would be cheap, millions who would opt not to buy coverage will buy coverage. Because it will be cheap, companies will direct their low-wage and entry-level employees to this coverage.
I don't believe the solution is anything like that simple, but this is definitely a component of the reform I would like to see: a return to real insurance, instead of the all-you-can-eat prepaid healthcare pseudo-insurance we have today.

In response to a reader's question, here are the pieces of a reformed healthcare system that I'd like to see here in the U.S.  A lot of these pieces interact with others, so they really need to be considered together.  And before people start yelling at me, I know that the chances of these elements being enacted together at that national level are vanishingly close to zero.  So shut up, already – it's my dream!  The elements:
  1. Either eliminate healthcare costs as deductible by employers, or make them deductible by individuals (or both).  This would eliminate the tax bias toward employer-provided healthcare (this never was a good idea, and only came into being as an accidental side-effect of WWI-era wage controls).  Employers could still provide healthcare, but it would cost them more.  Most employers would drop healthcare benefits like a hot potato, and then most Americans would be shopping for insurance.  Why do I think this is good?  Because it would empower individuals to shop for healthcare and health insurance, choosing the right combination of benefits and cost for them.
  2. Eliminate all mandated features of health insurance products, both at the federal and state levels.  In other words, allow health insurance providers the same freedom as car manufacturers – let them make high-end and low-end products, some full of glitzy features and others stripped down to the bare metal.  Insurance providers will immediately start promoting high-deductible major medical policies – because they are dirt cheap compared with the feature-laden policies most states mandate today.  Why do I think this is a good idea?  Because then the insurance companies will fall all over themselves trying to find products that the marketplace finds compelling – just like car makers do today.  This will include low-end products (like high-deductible major medical policies) and high-end products (like today's healthcare insurance, if enough people are willing to pay for them).  The most important piece of this is that consumers then get to choose – and the marketplace does the rest.
  3. Eliminate all state regulations that have the effect of creating a separate market for healthcare insurance within a state.  I can buy a Toyota in any state of this country.  I should be able to buy a Brand XYZ insurance policy the same way.  Why do I think this is a good idea?  That's easy: increased competition always means lower prices and better products.  No government ever produced a product like the iPhone, good service like Zappos, or low prices like Walmart – these all happened through the magic of competition in the marketplace – and the bigger that marketplace is, the better.
  4. Forbid denial (of high-deductible, major medical policies only) on the basis of pre-existing conditions – but allow insurance companies to recover as much of their costs related to the pre-existing condition as possible.  The idea here is to allow anyone to obtain coverage, no matter what their medical situation – but when an insurance company is forced to accept someone with a pre-existing condition, they can come after all that person's assets to recover their costs, much the way student loans are treated today.  I'm glossing over lots of troublesome details here, like determining what's actually related to pre-existing conditions, dealing with pre-existing conditions that predate adulthood, people uninsured for a short time (like between jobs), etc.  All that would most definitely have to be worked out, and I suspect it wouldn't be pretty.  But...what I like about this approach is that we'd end up in a situation in which two things are true: (1) anybody, with any pre-existing condition can get insurance, and (2) people who choose not to buy insurance until they needed it would be penalized, potentially severely.
  5. Remove all barriers to forming a robust healthcare reinsurance market.  This has the effect of enlarging the risk pool, an unambiguously good thing for competition.
  6. Completely separate the welfare component and the insurance component of healthcare-related policy and regulation.  Government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are part insurance, part pre-paid all-you-can-eat healthcare services, and part welfare.  What I'm proposing is requiring that when the government provides (directly or indirectly) health insurance to a program beneficiary, they buy a private health insurance policy to do so.  This has the effect of greatly increasing the size of the risk pools for both the indigent and the elderly, while still keeping it a competitive marketplace.
See what I mean?  Chances of all that passing are zero!

A Lovely Summer Brunch...

I just made this and had it for my brunch...

1 ripe tomato
1 ripe (but not mushy) avocado
1 chicken thigh and leg, roasted
2 tsp mayonaise
1 tbsp dried tarragon OR
2 tbsp minced fresh tarragon

If you're using dried tarragon, be aware that brands vary tremendously in quality.  Around here, the best we've found is Archer Farms, which Albertson's carries occasionally (stock up!) and Target carries usually.  Crush the dried leaves between your thumb and forefinger until they're almost powdered.  Remove any obvious stem fragments.

Cut the tomato, avocado, and chicken into pieces, roughly a quarter inch in size.  Put the tomato pieces and their juices into a bowl and mix the tarragon into them.  If you're using dried tarragon, let stand for 10 minutes or so to rehydrate the tarragon.  Then mix in the other ingredients and eat!

It's Just the Law...

An interesting and very different piece on the ObamaCare ruling by Jazz Shaw...

ObamaCare is Bananas...

Just watch this – it's the best short explanation of the major problems with ObamaCare I've seen yet, in language that anyone can understand...

A Cause for Celebration...

My father is the patriarch of our extended family, and of course he's even more ancient than I am.  Friends and family alike fondly refer to his age as “older than dirt” to edge around any awkward need for a more specific reference.  For him, waking up in the morning is reason enough for celebration – but he's got another reason just now: he's come through a minor surgery (hernia repair) in fine shape.  Through long experience, our family has discovered there's only one way to reliably tell what condition my dad is in: whether he's eating.  And he's eating his favorite food – chocolate milkshakes :-)

So we're celebrating!

Mom's Flowers...

It's got something to do with the combination of weather, “Scott's super soil” (Scott is my brother), and good fortune – all working together to make my mom's yard (near Charlottesville, Virginia) full of beautiful blooms.  Holly (my sister) is keeping a photo journal.  And flowers make moms happy, as everyone knows...

And Then I Read Mark Steyn...

...and was depressed all over again about the ObamaCare ruling.

This is definitely one of those issues upon which one can find any opinion one wants...and which defies rational analysis because of its complexity.

As far as I can tell, ObamaCare's impact on me personally, short term, will be tax increases – more money stolen from my pocket by the government and given to others in its inimitably inefficient manner.  Longer term, I am very worried about the stifling effects of ObamaCare on medical research, innovation, and practitioner compensation.  We currently lead the world on all these fronts, to the point where we dominate.  What happens when we make it unprofitable (or much less profitable) for the businesses and individuals who currently turn the gears of this wonderful machine?  They'll go elsewhere: either to other countries smart enough to take advantage of the bonanza we've handed them, or to other industries.  Either way, innovation most likely gets reduced – or at least our access to it.


We gotta repeal this pig!