Right-Wing Think Tank Review: 2/13/07
American Enterprise Institute (Sourcwatch profile here) "Good Medicine for the Tax Code"
'Short Publication' by Joseph Antos
, "Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy" at AEI.
This article, published in AEI's online magazine American.com on Jan. 25, praises President Bush's "bold" health care proposal, which
would help lower-income people buy health insurance while putting the brakes on runaway health spending. Unlike his last big initiative—the Medicare drug benefit—the new proposal will have the support of conservatives and deserves the support of liberals.
Antos says that the plan would address a "defect" of tax policy: the employer-based health insurance deduction. Many liberals have also argued that the deduction, and the employer-based health care system it supports, is problematic (see for instance this article
by Ezra Klein). But Antos goes on to make a surprising claim: that this system is the primary cause of inequality in America
As a result, the more income workers receive as health care, the more income they get to keep free of taxes.... That differential has led to a shift in employee compensation away from taxable wages, toward non-taxable health benefits. Consequently, workers are not seeing their wages increase despite a booming economy. Most of the increase in labor productivity over the past few years has been eaten up by health benefits.
Your humble reviewer is not an economist, but in an era of skyrocketing corporate profits
and massive increases in executive compensation,
this seems like a rather brazenly absurd claim. However, if it provides a narrative by which conservatives can simultaneously co-opt the inequality debate and the health care debate, it's worth watching.
Antos goes on to repeat a number of other conservative claims about the Bush plan and about health care in general. In this analysis, the primary issue is cost control, and the best way to control costs is to allow individuals to decide how to spend their health care dollars. Moreover, argues Antos, the plan would be "mildly redistributional, favoring those with lower incomes" (by contrast, the Center for American Progress points out
that "most uninsured Americans pay low or no taxes and would get a smaller benefit from this plan than higher-income Americans").
"The President’s proposal," says Antos, "gives workers and firms a new reason to ask whether their insurance is right for them, but it would not impose change from above." This seems to be the conservative position on health care in a nutshell. However, if it appears to lack urgency, liberals should nonetheless be careful to note that it does indicate a developing conservative attempt to seize the agenda in the health care debate.Manhattan Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)
"Consumerism: A Prescription for Change"
Op-Ed by David Gratzer
; originally published in the San Francisco Examiner
Gratzer celebrates prescription drug programs by Wal-Mart and other pharmacy chains, arguing that they offer a low-cost, free-choice alternative to the "paternalism" of those who agree with Howard Dean that "there is no such thing as an informed consumer of health care." This "revolution," made possible by the internet (which is "empowering people with information and options"), is "potentially transformative."
Echoing Antos, Gratzer says that "one of the biggest problems with American health care is its cost." The reason for high medical costs? "Third-party payership." Gratzer cites Health Savings Accounts
as "a step in the right direction" toward fixing this problem.
HSAs, of course, are the centerpiece of the conservatives' emerging effort to address the health care crisis (or, alternately, to prevent the Democrats from addressing the health care crisis). As Fred Barnes wrote a few weeks ago, they've already been authorized
and need only to be promoted. See this fact sheet
from Families USA for an analysis of how HSAs may in fact represent a step backwards
in American health care. If it all sounds suspiciously like "private Social Security accounts" to you - you're not wrong.Heritage Foundation (Sourcewatch profile here)
"Don't Rush to Judgment on UN IPCC Global Warming Summary" (WebMemo No. 1351)
Article by Ben Lieberman, Senior Policy Analyst in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at Heritage
Lieberman continues the conservative effort to put the brakes on the global warming consensus, this time in response to the summary of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report ("IPCC Report"). "It's just a summary,"
Lieberman cautions, and "the full scientific debate over the report has not yet begun."
Moreover, "IPCC summaries are written at the direction of political appointees representing member nations" - thus, presumably, opening the door to an attack on the summary's credibility. This seems to fall squarely within the conservative strategy of asserting controversy in order to muddy the waters and delay action.
While acknowledging that the summary indicates an increasingly solid consensus that human action has been causing climate change, Lieberman argues that
This upward revision in the certainty that mankind has impacted the climate should not be confused with an upward revision in the predictions of consequent harm.
The more important questions have always been the extent of warming, the seriousness of the consequences, and what responsive policies make sense.
Moreover, he suggests that the report has "backtracked" on a number of key claims - for instance, de-emphasizing the "hockey stick"
model of recent dramatic climate change, and dramatically revising estimates of future sea-level rise (this post
from RealClimate debunks similar claims made by Christopher Monckton
Lieberman once again returns to the conservative "neo-denial" argument that emissions limits as called for by the Kyoto protocols would be too expensive and would have little effect.Cato Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)
"Live with Climate Change"
Article by Patrick Michaels
, Senior Fellow; appeared as an op-ed in USA Today on Feb. 2, 2007.
Michaels joins in the defeatist conservative neo-denial framing of climate change: yes, it's happening, but "actually 'doing something' about warming is a daunting endeavor." And, par for the course, he pairs this statement with an argument for a solution combining technology development and just getting used to it
The stark reality is that if we really want to alter the warming trajectory of the planet significantly, we have to cut emissions by an extremely large amount, and — a truth that everyone must know — we simply do not have the technology to do so. We would fritter away billions in precious investment capital in a futile attempt to curtail warming.
Consequently, the best policy is to live with some modest climate change now and encourage economic development, which will generate the capital necessary for investment in the more efficient technologies of the future.
This is a significantly more defeatist position even than that of Samuel Thernstrom and Lee Lane
, who at least argue for some government action on R&D and a carbon tax. Michaels, in the best tradition of glib laissez-faire complacency, prefers to let the market take care of the problem.
Labels: Ben Lieberman, David Gratzer, global warming, health care, Joseph Antos, Patrick Michaels, Right Wing Think Tank Review