Category Archives: Uncommon Sense

A collection of proposals that appeal to individuals of every ideological stripe and only serve to benefit everyone involved.

Is My Inner Archie Bunker Showing? Notes from a Crotchety Young Man

                                                                                                          Above: Archie Bunker

DISCLAIMER: I realize that many reflection pieces responding to the rise of arm chair activism and the “outrage industry” have been written. I am writing this article for personal, cathartic reasons.

As any objective person active in contemporary mass culture knows, social media and the blogosphere has been invaded by hordes of shrill, belligerent ideologues who roam the internet in small cyber-packs, in search of easy targets to bully. Known as the “social justice warrior” phenomenon, many have invaded the news feeds of nearly every millenial Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or other social media user.                                                                                                    Have you ever wondered the cause behind the rise in self-proclaimed libertarian, small-government conservative, and constitutionalist political affiliations in recent years? Part of the answer: bleeding heart ideologues who agonize over inane non-issues that don’t pertain to reality (a.k.a “Social Justice Warriors”). Granted, this explanation is insufficient, overly simplistic, and a bit antagonistic itself. But hear me out.                                                                                                     What I mean, in short, is that brazen identity politics are the order of the day. It seems that any dialogue about meaningful issues are drowned out by the latest, contrived outrage; somebody’s delicate sensibilities were offended and therefore the perpetrator deserves to be lynched on the altar of public opinion. In fact, that last sentence I wrote could be worthy of a skinning in some circles due to the fact that it uses the word “lynching.”                                                       The Social Justice Warriors are the Digital Age reincarnations of the 60’s “bleeding heart liberals” who displayed the same naivete and manufactured outrage that comically annoyed the fictional Archie Bunker and others like him on the show All In the Family.                                                     The cynic in me sees the new generation of SJWs as a group less genuine and more sinister than their baby boomer predecessors. Thanks to the over-sheltered upbringing of most of today’s Western youth, spurred on by helicopter parents thrown into a media-induced frenzy of fear, many members of my generation crave intrigue and meaning in their lives. Add to this the self-promotion afforded by social media, and you have the narcissist equivalent of the Crack-Cocaine Epidemic. It appears that many of these young, misguided internet users have sickly appropriated often worthy philanthropic causes for their own self-gratifying ego-stroking.                                    Above: A “bleeding heart”

Like their bleeding-heart predecessors, SJWs are known for their characteristic (here comes the “warrior” part) witchunts of ideological non-purists. The aims of these raids can be as mundane as humiliation in front of targets’ friends to full-out “doxing,” the broadcasting of private, individually-identifiable information with the intent of bringing harm upon the victim. People have lost jobs, received death threats, had their identities stolen, and dealt with slanderous accusations thanks to such activities. The craziest part of the whole phenomenon is that it targets other supposed “warriors” who have apparently fallen out of favor with the main current of thought. The deeply-embedded yet subtly expressed sanctimonious intellectual conceit of the Left’s talking heads has found its full, combatant expression in the online communication of young, impressionable minds. The online world of armchair activism is a self-consuming movement.                                                                                                                                         When not totally oblivious to non-identity related political issues, SJWs are finding ways to frame such issues in terms of identity politics. Mostly, these are thinly-veiled attempts at discrediting small-government and laissez-faire market capitalism. Now that more people are confronted with the self-entitled products of a “mass coddling movement,” the fears of death of the common virtue and the ensuing loss of the Pax Americana are more justified than ever.               Social justice “crusading” can’t be fully understood without knowing the role that supposedly academic, not intellectual, institutions.  The American university, in the words of Camille Paglia, has become an exercise in “institutionalized whining.” As I wrote in an earlier post, as long as the over-attendance of college has been going on, the intellectual stature of the American university has been in decline. While a dynamic, culture should never be stifled by tradition, re-interpretation of the academic canon can only go so far. So much of what was once taught and valued in the core curricula of American universities is now watered-down, disavowed, or frightfully misrepresented. Honest, genuinely intellectual discussion is increasingly under assault from the revisionist zealots. This is the breeding ground for modern-day online social justice activism in which many youth are introduced to this distorted learning and develop a false sense of their own erudition and righteousness.                                                                                                                                       Above: “Coddle College”                                                                                                                                         As a college student fully immersed in a collegiate environment, I am quite exhausted by the New Left’s relentless pandering to the young and the naive via demagoguery. According to this camp, whether it’s the “1%,” “privileged white people,” “the warriors against women,” or the latest obscure gender label there is always someone, rather than some issue, to direct one’s outrage towards. As a citizen of one of the freest and most prosperous societies in history, I didn’t realize I was supposed to be so angry at so many for so much. This is a dangerous trend if free, protected speech is to continue to be freely expressed without fear of retribution.                                                                                                                  On many campuses, there are now institutionalized “safe spaces” where students seeking asylum can escape opinions they find disagreeable; and, “free speech zones,” where students may protest and speak freely without risk of disciplinary action. What these initiatives amount to is the ghettoization of the university into distinct compartments that follow ideologically-drawn lines. This defeats one of the greatest strengths of the modern university by preventing the cross-pollination and conflict that arises from the confluence of different perspectives. This produces a tragic stagnation effect for academia as well as for the more widely-consumed culture. All forms of nonviolent expression should be tolerated and “out of the closet,” even hate speech. In an authentically progressive society, thoughts or ideas aren’t to be silenced because they may offend sensibilities; break all rules of taste; or, are blatantly false. The truth can evince itself and, as such, any and all ideas, organizations, and values claiming some ownership of the truth deserve to stand trial and have their claims questioned. Any cause that claims the moral high ground must prove itself to be in possession of such moral standing; they don’t need to be protected but, rather, they must be allowed to explain themselves.                                                                                                                                          And, fill disclosure, as a”white, gender-conforming, cisgender, heterosexual, American-born male from an upper-middle class background,” I am not writing this to lament marginalization and discrimination experienced by those whose identities resemble mine; we are not victims of discrimination; Western culture as a whole is the victim of the character assassination of certain elements of society. So no, I don’t want to discuss the “outrage of the week.” I have no desire to engage in a rancorous shout match with you in the comment section of Facebook. It’s not enriching, thoughtful, or morally-satisfying in any way; it’s a further “tabloidization” of culture and politics. As Archie Bunker would say, “Can’t we all just have civilized humanical relationships?”

 

Case Study: Chile’s Private Social Security

                                                          Above: Running ‘Cause I Can’t Fly

It’s no secret that the United States’ brand of old-age safety net, known as “Social Security” is aging and failing. Due to the changing demographic nature of the U.S. labor force and the American people as a whole, the program is headed for collapse and insolvency. While the exact date of this collapse is hotly disputed, its inevitability is not. Given this situation, solutions are desperately needed and free-market proponents are stepping up to the plate to offer help.            Reformers commonly reference Chile’s privatization of its old-age pension program as a source of inspiration for changes to Social Security. Under the current setup of Social Security, the pensions of retirees are paid for by current workers. Thanks to increased life expectancies, declining fertility rates, and the en masse retirement of baby boomers, the ratio of workers not collecting social security to the number of pensioners receiving benefits continues its steady decline. In addition to retirees aged 64+, approximately 1 million permanently disabled individuals receive social security payments along with spouses and children of disabled or deceased workers.                                                                                                                                                    In 1924, Chile was the first Western hemisphere country to introduce a social insurance scheme that covered retired workers, their survivors, and disabled persons. By 1980, the Pinochet military junta was faced with the failure of this pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) pension system. Taking inspiration from Milton Friedman, Pinochet and his team of “Chicago Boys” transformed Chile’s pension system into the capitalist wonder that it is today.                                                                  In the old system, there were three major branches of the system: one for government workers, one for salaried employees, and one for manual workers. In addition, there were more than 30 other funds for workers in various professions. Each fund had its own particular administrative bureaucracy and set of rules. Some retirees were even allowed to draw from multiple funds. The system also guaranteed a minimum pension to each worker, irrespective of previous contributions or earnings. On top of all that, a worker’s pension payments were calculated based on the earnings from his final 5 years of work, prompting many to under-report their income (and, thus, contribute less to the fund) until those final five years.                                                                                                                           Above: Augusto Pinochet Ugarte

Europeans take note; efforts throughout the 1970’s to prolong the expiration date of this system such as raising the retirement age and limiting pension adjustments to less than the rate of inflation, did little to assuage the nation’s economic crisis. The new system, begun in 1980 operates on the principle of choice by giving workers options at all stages of the process.           Under the current Chilean model, a worker chooses which private AFPs (Administradoras de fondos de pensiones) he wants to manage his individual “nest egg” account that will fund his pensions later in life. Each worker may have only one such account with one AFP. Each worker is required to contribute 10% of his monthly earnings to the account. This mandatory contribution is tax-exempt while any additional contributions, which are permitted up to a predetermined amount of money tied to the CPI, are taxed. Participation in the system is completely optional for self-employed workers.                                                                                                                                   If the worker so desires, he may set up additional savings accounts with the same AFP. Workers may make up to four withdrawals from these accounts per year and may draw from these accounts as well as from the primary account to finance retirement. Since the government does not officially recognize these accounts as retirement contributions, the money is subject to income tax.                                                                                                                           A worker may retire early if his account has the funds to support a pension that equals at least 50% of his average annual indexed wage over the previous 10 years and at least 110% of the government’s minimum old-age pension. If a worker retires at the normal retirement age (65 for men and 60 for women), he can choose to make scheduled withdrawals from his account, purchase an annuity, or form some combination of the two. Whatever he decides, his pension payments will be subject to income tax.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The privately-operated AFPs, are setup to manage a single pension fund comprised of a collection of workers’ accounts. Any organization of shareholders may form an AFP except banks.  AFPs are bound by stringent regulations and expectations. Originally permitted to invest only in low-risk domestic ventures (e.g. government bonds, time deposits, etc.), AFPs may invest in various international ventures, private stocks, company bonds, mortgage loans, and more.             Pension funds are obligated to maintain a ROI (rate of return on investment) between maximum and minimum ROI rates tied to the average 12-month return for all pension funds. In order to protect individuals’ retirement accounts, pensions funds are required to abide by a 1% investment ratio, whereby 1% of the fund’s value is held in the form of reserves.                                     Should the ROI of a pension fund exceed the average ROI of all pension funds by 2 percentage points or 50%, whichever is greater, the excess profit must be transferred to a profitability reserve. If the ROI of a pension fund falls below the average ROI of all pension fund by 2 percentage points or 50%, whichever is lesser, funds from the investment or profitability reserves must be transferred to the pension fund to make up the difference.                                           If an AFP with a below-average ROI fails to make up the difference within 6 months, the government takes control of the AFP, pays the pension fund, and then assigns the accounts to other AFPs. Of course, the individual owners of the accounts may choose to which AFP they want to move their account.                                                                                                                                                                         Above: Profitability of Chilean AFPs vs. banks

There is a provision to protect people in the unlikely event that their privately-managed retirement funds don’t pan out when it’s time to retire. The government steps in and pays a retiree a minimum pension if the individual is of retirement age or older, has paid contributions for at least 20 years and either exhausts his retirement savings or whose accrued savings can’t support the minimum pension payments as set by law.                                                                               As far as the effectiveness of the Chilean model, the proof is in the pudding. According to the OECD, the average real ROI for private Chilean pension funds was 6.1% between 2000 and 2005 while it was 1.5% in the United States. By 2005, Chile’s pension fund assets, the money available to pay out to pensioners, was equal to 59% of the value of GDP, a figure well above the average of 15% for Latin America. That statistic is a testament to the wisdom of the Chilean reforms for two reasons: 1) it demonstrates a remarkable turnaround for a retirement system that was nearly bankrupt only 25 years prior and 2) the figure is comparable to those of more advanced economies such as Canada(60%) and the Australia (69%). If you trust the figures from Chile’s Superintendency of Pensions, this success is generally pretty evenly spread among the various pensions fund.                                                                                                                                                           While Chile’s system is far from perfect, as evidenced by its severely fluctuating ROI rates from year to year and the need for reforms in 2008, it’s private model certainly has turned things around. The U.S would be wise to learn from, not duplicate, the Chilean model by implementing more of the personal choice and private oversight of pensions that has worked so well for Chile.

Common-Sense Solutions: Democratizing Primary Care

While often presented as a single issue, “healthcare reform” is really an umbrella term for a plethora of issues and proposals that all deal, tangentially or directly, with the experience of healthcare in this country. I won’t get into the meat-and-potatoes issues in this post but I will present some prudent changes that most people should and would support.

1.) Abolish Certificate of Need (CON) Laws                                                            

                                                                               SourceNational Conference of State Legislatures                                      

Certificate of Need Laws live up to their acronym: CON. In 1964, New York enacted the first of such laws that requires the state government to determine if there is a need for a new hospital or nursing home before approving the construction of new facilities. The rationale behind these laws was the reigning in of healthcare costs by limiting capital expenditures on health care. Others have contended that the true motive behind these laws is the protection of existing hospitals from competitors. A federal mandate in 1974 required all 50 states to enact CON programs in order to receive funding through the Public Health Service Act. In 1987, the federal mandate was repealed and a wave of states dismantled their CON programs. As illustrated in the above map, 14 states no longer have CON laws.  In states with CON laws still on the books, it can be difficult to nearly impossible to open up new facilities or expand existing ones, burdening the general public with a lack of choice, options, and availability in healthcare.

2.) Allow Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to expand their repertoire                                                                      Interactive Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice laws chart                                                                                           SourceBarton Associates

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, a Nurse Practitioner (NP) is, in most cases, a primary-care clinician trained on the nursing model as opposed to the physician model. While some NPs do specialize, most provide the fundamentals of care as directed by the nursing model. NPs undergo years of training and must obtain a master’s or doctoral degree and have advanced clinical training. NPs are not to be confused with your average LVN or RN nurses. Many argue that NPs are capable at delivering routine care to patients in a holistic, cost-effective manner with high levels of patient satisfaction. With a looming shortage of physicians and a growing demand placed upon the healthcare infrastructure due to an aging population and the effects of Obamacare, NPs may offer a practical solution. It takes less time and less expense to train an NP than a general practice doctor and it is cheaper to hire and maintain an NP. In my opinion, NPs are a perfect fit because, despite spending less time in training than doctors, more of their training is pertinent to treating the whole person and addressing his everyday health concerns.                                                                                                                                  Still, some groups such as the American Medical Association  oppose expanding the abilities of Nurse Practitioners, ostensibly because they lack the same level of education as physicians. The resistance from the AMA is not surprising as it primarily represents the interests of physicians and doctors. The image posted above links to an interactive chart that illustrates the powers of NPs by state. Some of the battles center on allowing NPs to open up independent practices, order physical therapy, prescribe medications, and sign death certificates. It should be re-stated that patients who see NPs don’t report inferior quality of care. The following excerpt comes from a  2012 brief released by Health Affairs:

Studies comparing the quality of care provided by physicians and nurse practitioners have found that clinical outcomes are similar. For example, a systematic review of 26 studies published since 2000 found that health status, treatment practices, and prescribing behavior were consistent between nurse practitioners and physicians.

What’s more, patients seeing nurse practitioners were also found to have higher levels of satisfaction with their care. Studies found that nurse practitioners do better than physicians on measures related to patient follow up; time spent in consultations; and provision of screening, assessment, and counseling services. The patient-centered nature of nurse practitioner training, which often includes care coordination and sensitivity to the impact on health of social and cultural factors, such as environment and family situation, makes nurse practitioners particularly well prepared for and interested in providing primary care.

3.) Enact comprehensive, common-sense tort reforms 

 SourceB2C

     At the heart of the debate over medical malpractice is the impact of non-economic damages on the cost of doctors’ liability insurance premiums. Non-economic damages is the term used to refer to the  damages awarded to a plaintiff for the “pain and suffering” caused by the alleged medical malpractice. This is a highly subjective cost as it cannot be measured by lost wages, medical expenses, or necessary care costs. In recent years, headlines have been dominated by tales of plaintiffs being awarded outrageous sums of money in frivolous lawsuits. The result of this indiscriminate awarding of non-economic damages has the adverse effect of forcing insurance companies to raise the premiums that doctors pay for liability insurance. Additionally, doctors  are forced to practice “defensive medicine,” the practice of ordering unnecessary tests or procedures to protect the doctor from the possibility of being sued by patients. These unnecessary tests and procedures further drive the costs of healthcare up.              In response to this onerous burden on good doctors (the majority, I might add), a number of states have placed caps on the size of non-economic damage awards that can be given to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice suit. The above infographic shows states like Texas and California with the tightest caps. Texas, for example, caps non-economic damages at $250,000 per individual plaintiff. In 2003, Texas passed the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act  (HB4) placing the $250k cap on non-economic damages. Other distinctive features of Texas tort law include provisions which allow government entities to be sued (TX Tort Claims Act), forbid the awarding of damages to plaintiffs who have not demonstrated economic losses (no statutory damages), and award negligence claims only if the plaintiff’s liability is 50% or less (comparative negligence).

                                                SourceTexas Medical Board 

Though late to the reform movement, Texas has benefited tremendously from its reforms in a short period of time. According to the Texas Hospital Association (THA), there were 163 actively-practicing physicians per 100,000 population in 2002 in Texas. By 2012, the figure had risen 194 per 100,000 population. More importantly, the growth in practicing physicians per capita in Texas was greater in the period following the 2003 tort reform than in it was in the period preceding the changes. From 2002 to 2012, number of Ob-Gyns per 100,000 increased by 3%, surgeons per 100,000 by 4%, and physicians per 100,000 by 19%. The most deprived and underserved communities in Texas benefited greatly from the increase in doctors. Large swathes of the Texas panhandle, Rio Grande Valley, and various inner-city enclaves witnessed an influx of medical practices, both general and specialty, never before seen.

                                           SourceTexas Medical Board

According to the Texas Medical Liability Trust, the largest liability insurance carrier in the state, the average premium for has decreased by 56.7% between 2003 and 2012.  Doctors and hospitals have reported re-investing the savings in expanding and improving the quality of care they offer. Texas is far from the only medical malpractice success story but it is the most recent example of how a large, diverse polity can successfully pull off tort reform, an example the rest of the U.S would be wise to follow.

Reforming Higher Education

                      Source: Sprengeloo Technical School in Apeldoorn, Netherlands

Some of the Problems                                                                                                                                      There is no question that tertiary education in the United States is cumbersome and stressful for students and the parents that raise them. In my opinion, higher education in this country has lost its way. I think the problem starts with our values. As a society, we have idealized college into a professional that “everyone must do” to be “successful” (i.e marketable to employers). This is the root of our higher education problems: we want to make the college experience into something other than it is.                                                                                                    The way we view college is a natural outgrowth of a meritocracy gone wild. We live in a world in which an ever-expanding array of tasks require qualification. In some states you need an occupational license to legally work as a hairdresser, court reporter, or tree-trimmer. Simply put, our society is obsessed with bureaucratizing labor and professional work.                                      Increasingly, Americans at the ripe old age of 18, are told to fund an expensive four year education (at least), obtain a degree upon completing said education, and then find a job with said degree. For some, this model works which is why it has been emulated by the society at large. However, more and more people realize the impracticality of this system. Inordinate numbers of college students drop out and of those that graduate do so with ever-increasing debt loads and increasingly slim job prospects.                                                                                              Too many people are funneling themselves to an undergraduate institution at, creating a demand for college that exceeds the capacity. This is only one of the reasons why college tuition costs are skyrocketing. What’s more, many to most of these new entrants lack have no strategy for achieving what they want to achieve from their education. This is because many eighteen year-olds lack the life perspective and self-knowledge to know what they really want from their life much less their education.

 Source: The American Dream 2.0

The Solution                                                                                                                                                        In my view, encouraging a multiplicity of tracks for young high school graduates is the best way to improve higher education. For some, a vocational or apprenticeship route is the best option. Some people are just not academics and that’s ok. There should be no stigma attached to individuals who just won’t benefit from what an undergraduate education has to offer. Such students would be better served learning a particular professional skill at that point their lives.        To upgrade our vocational education system, we need look no further than Germany. Their VET System provides students with approximately 350 different training programs. The training programs work on a dual apprenticeship system in which a student receives instruction from their trade school while receiving on-the-job training from a company in their field. These programs usually last 3 years or less, allowing an individual the flexibility to undergo other programs in the future or pursue higher education. In the hypothetical American version of this system, colleges and universities should seriously consider graduates of such programs who find that later in life, they want to pursue a more academic experience.                                                  Another great option which already exists, is the military to college route. Israel partially credits its mandatory IDF service for its thriving high-tech scene. For some, the discipline they gain from military service combined with the education grants they receive better prepare them for college. This pathway deserves more credit than it gets and it should be promoted more than it currently is.                                                                                                                                                Reorganizing universities themselves can also provide go a long way. For one, traditional universities could become more open to accepting nontraditional students. Accepting people who’ve elected to take a gap year(s), undergo vocational training, or return to college can serve as a sort of self-selection in which the participants are more likely to know why they are going to college and how they are going to graduate.                                                                                                  For those “traditional students”, they should be offered different routes. For those students who do not know exactly what field of study they want to major in, the first two undergraduate years should be spent pursuing a well-rounded liberal arts course of study. Such students should be given a set of distribution requirements that challenges them to take classes in a diverse range of disciplines. After those first two years, such students should be allowed to major and follow a more focused course of study.                                                                                        Those who know specifically that they want to purse further education in a particular field should be offered direct tracks. This means that students pursuing pre-engineering, pre-medical, pre-veterinarian, etc. tracks should be given extra leniency on the distribution requirements not directly related to their field of study. By eliminating superfluous classes, some of their courses could count toward their ultimate degree. Thus, a pre-med student could take some of the courses currently taught in medical school. This would allow medical schools, for example, to focus on teaching the hands-on training, people skills, and real-world skills that doctors need to be successful. Postgraduate institutions should still be open to undergraduates who decided after two years to pursue further education in a particular field.                                        In order to make these different life paths viable, employers and all sorts of institutions of higher learning must become more accepting of people who seek to move between different tracks. Why can’t a thirty year old with advanced vocational training in welding be accepted into an M.B.A program? Why can’t a biology major who took a liberal arts course load for two years be accepted by a medical school? Hopefully, by diverting different types of people to different “life paths”, we can lower the cost of higher education, ensure the academic integrity of universities, and provide people with more a more effective means of personal improvement.