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Robin Hood on Acid

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The Washington Post today (Sunday, 10/9) continued its coverage of the efforts to curtail spending to control the budget deficit, pour more money into Iraq, pour money into the pockets of companies getting rich off hurricane relief, and maintain the tax breaks for the rich which have done such an extraordiary job at trickling down to the needy. (You’ll have to take my word for the coverage–the Post’s web site is on the blink. Check out page 2, “House GOP Vows Broad Cuts in Spending” by Jonathan Weisman.)

They claim the cuts are to pay for hurricane relief, but I was confused, so I called my good friend, Butch, who once studied economics. That is, back in the ’60s, he took an economics course by mistake and attended once–then disappared–but that puts him one class ahead of me.

Me: Heya, Butch, what’s happening?

Butch: Just made a fortune in fake photos of Tom Cruise’s teeth.

Me: Huh?

Butch: Sold ‘em on some auction site. Fifty bucks a pop. Sold over 15,000 in 4 hours.

Well, that establishes Butch’s credentials as an economic wizard as far as I’m concerned.

Me: So, Butch, I’ve got a question about these spending cuts Congress is considering to help pay for the hurricanes and Iraq and the rich.

Butch: You’ve come to the right place. It’s all straight forward.

Me: They’re going to cut tens of billions of dollars from programs for the poor, including Medicaid, food stamps, and student loans. But that’ll include all the victims of the hurricanes–who’ll need food stamps and other aid.

Butch: Oh, they’ll get it through other programs. Halliburton has just established a disbursement company to ensure that only the needy get hurricane relief money.

Me: They’re going to take money from the poor who weren’t in the hurricanes and give it to people–rich and poor–who were?

Butch: Stroke of genius, don’t you think? That way, you maintain the average standard of living. Think about it, if all you do is spread around the money you’re already giving away to the poor, poverty levels stay the same.

Me: But government established poverty levels are absurd. If a family of 3 makes $16,000 a year, they’re not counted as living in poverty. You know how much that family probably pays in health care?

Butch: They don’t pay anything.

Me: Why?

Butch: Don’t be a chump. They can’t afford it. Let’s make it easy. They bring in $1333 a month. Let’s say they get an apartment for $600 a month.

Me: Where can you find an apartment for that?

Butch: Harlem, the south side of Chicao, East St. Louis, Roxbury in Boston, plenty of places in the deep south–except of course those areas the hurricanes wiped out. And stop interrupting. So now they’ve got $833 left. Figure $100 a week on food, and they’re down to $400. And that’s not counting utilities, gas, clothes, vacations…

Me: Vacations? How the hell could they take vacations?

Butch: That’s the point, they can’t. And you sure as hell can’t get health insurance for 3 people for $400 a month, so stop worrying about it.

Me: The government’s robbing the poor to give money to the poor?

Butch: Well, a more scientific way to look at it is that the government is engaged in a redistribution of available resources among a target population to cause the least disruption to society.

Me: Don’t you realize that the disparity between the rich and poor in the U.S. is greater than at any time in history? According to Edward N. Wolff, a wealth expert and an economics professor at New York University, “…[T]he wealthiest 1% in the U.S. control more than a third of the nation’s wealth–the starkest such concentration among industrialized countries….While the ultra-wealthy are prospering, average real wages in the U.S. haven’t kept pace. Real estate, which makes up a far bigger share of wealth for middle-class households, could take a hit with rising interest rates. President Bush’s tax-cut programs disproportionately benefit those at the top of the wealth pyramid.”

Butch: You believe everything you read? Those are just statistics. We’re talking real people who need real help here.

Me: So it doesn’t seem bizarre to you to take from the poor to help other poor people?

Butch: Nah. What’d be bizarre is if Congress took from the rich and gave to the poor. Now that would be noteworthy.

Me: Never happen.

Butch: You’re not kidding. Well, hope that’s helped. Gotta run. Just got a supply of fake photos of Jennifer Aniston’s boobs. It’s back to the on-line auctions for me.

Me: Who’s Jennifer Aniston?

Butch: Beats me, but google her…it’ll blow your mind.

Me: You already have.

In Jamesons Veritas

Ed:LisaM

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About Mark Schannon

Retired crisis & risk manager/communications expert; extensive public relations experience in most areas over 30 years. Still available for extraordinary opportunities of mind-numbing complexity. Life-long liberal agnostic...or is that agnostic liberal.
  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    >>Me: They’re going to take money from the poor who weren’t in the hurricanes and give it to people–rich and poor–who were?

    Butch: Stroke of genius, don’t you think? That way, you maintain the average standard of living. Think about it, if all you do is spread around the money you’re already giving away to the poor, poverty levels stay the same.

    Ny favorite part.

    IT’s SATIRE before anyone blows a gasket.

    Also, the $1,333 figure was optimistic. *They* don’t actually get that every month – *they* have to get that balance in a tax return.

    I get, base anyway, about $1,850 per month — after taxes. It’s no walk in the park at that level.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>maintain the tax breaks for the rich< <

    Once again, there are no tax breaks specifically for the rich, there are just tax breaks which are a flat percentage of income - actually a slightly higher percentage for lower income tax payers than for the rich.

    >>If a family of 3 makes $16,000 a year, they’re not counted as living in poverty< <

    This is incorrect. The poverty cut-off for a family of 3 varies by state and in some states it's substantially higher. In addition, this is an arbitrary figure which has little to do with anything. The actual cut-offs for federal aid programs are considerably higher.

    >>And you sure as hell can’t get health insurance for 3 people for $400 a month< <

    Let's see, if I go to ehealthinsurance.com, all but the two most expensive quotes I get for a family of 3 are under $400 a month. In fact, if I'm willing to take a reasonably high deductible I can insure that family of 3 for about $150 a month.

    >>Bush’s tax-cut programs disproportionately benefit those at the top of the wealth pyramid<<

    No, they are entirely proportional. The increase in wealth at the top of the income spectrum has nothing to do with the tax cuts, but with the growth in the economy. The more you have invested the more your income grows in a strong economy. And don’t forget that income has gone up singificantly in ALL income groups, but those who have more sources of income will naturally benefit more.

    All of that aside, the one point about taking money from the poor to give to the rich is at least somewhat valid – except that the poor pay no taxes at all, so they won’t have anything taken away from them.

    Dave

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Dave, on the insurance question, when my wife & I tried to get health insurance, we got lots of very low quotes…before we answered health questions. When it was all over, the best we could do was an $900/month plan with no dental or vision, very high deductibles, and a limit on annual prescription drugs.

    Granted, we’re both in our 50s & have the normal health problems associated with that age. If people could get health insurance for $400, there wouldn’t be almost 50 million uninsured Americans.

    RE: taking from the poor to give to the poor–the money they’re planning to take from the poor isn’t in higher taxes, it’s in lower benefits.

    RE: taxes and wealth. You’re right that proverty levels differ by state, but that site was an easier place to at least start the discussion.

    However, it doesn’t really matter. I once did a budget for my mother, sister, and niece, who were living together. I was blown away when I figured out their basic costs–nothing for clothes, cosmetics, travel, entertainment, etc.–it was over $30,000 a year.

    I don’t think most of us realize how expensive basic living is these days.

    Two facts: The distribution of wealth disparity in this country is the highest in the history of humanity (all 6000 years, according to Bishop Ussher…oops, sorry.) And while income levels have risen across the board, the “average” American’s increase has, at best, kept up with inflation.

    In Jameson’s Veritas

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Oh, and thanks, Temple. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Nancy

    Dave Nalle is an ardent proponent of the math the top 1% wishes that all the rest of us would accept, along with our proper places as their serfs.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Yes, that would be the math that would be actual math, as opposed to the math that is propaganda.

    Dave

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Now, now, Nancy, play nice.

    I rarely agree with Dave, but he is usually thoughtful and knowledgeable, and I always enjoy his comments. And I especially enjoy the give and take because it’s based on ideas.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    For smart people, bluster doesn’t work Dave. Sorry.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>Dave, on the insurance question, when my wife & I tried to get health insurance, we got lots of very low quotes…before we answered health questions. When it was all over, the best we could do was an $900/month plan with no dental or vision, very high deductibles, and a limit on annual prescription drugs. < <

    Very few plans cover dental anymore, which is unfortunate. I used exactly the family described in the article, and assumed that a family with a kid would be in its 30s.

    $600 still seems pretty high for just the two of you if you have no preexisting conditions, even if you are in your 50s. Are you smokers? HumanaOne is a plan which is under $600 for a couple in their 50s and provides about the most comprehensive possible insurance, including a low deductible, no copayments and 100% coverage - essentially the cadillac of health insurance. If you accept a high deductible and co-payments you can get under $300. But again, with prior conditions, smoking, etc., all bets are off.

    >>Granted, we’re both in our 50s & have the normal health problems associated with that age. If people could get health insurance for $400, there wouldn’t be almost 50 million uninsured Americans.< <

    Actually, if you look at the figures - which I'm doing for an article I'm working on - the lack of health insurance appears to be completely unrelated to income. The numbers of uninsured are very similar for all income groups. In fact, the second highest group of uninsured is the top 20% of income earners.

    >>However, it doesn’t really matter. I once did a budget for my mother, sister, and niece, who were living together. I was blown away when I figured out their basic costs–nothing for clothes, cosmetics, travel, entertainment, etc.–it was over $30,000 a year. < <

    That seems kind of extreme. I've lived on a very limited income and was able to get by on far less than $30K a year. When I was a student I lived on less than $10K a year and didn't starve.

    >>I don’t think most of us realize how expensive basic living is these days.< <

    My observation is that a lot of peoples expectations of quality of life are unrealistic - for example the 'living wage' proponents assume that everyone must live in a one-bedroom apartment in a prime neighborhood. They never consider the possibility of sharing living space.

    >>Two facts: The distribution of wealth disparity in this country is the highest in the history of humanity (all 6000 years, according to Bishop Ussher…oops, sorry.) And while income levels have risen across the board, the “average” American’s increase has, at best, kept up with inflation. <<

    Statistically this varies a great deal depending on the source of income. While salaries have barely kept up, if you have any income from investments that has generally performed much better. This is why ideas like privatizing social security are so appealing – the more people we can get into a situation where they have multiple sources of income the better for them and for the economy.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>For smart people, bluster doesn’t work Dave. Sorry.<<

    For smart people there are substantive responses. For Nancy there’s one line of bluster.

    Dave

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Without going into personal details that could be used against me in a court of law–or the court of public ridicule, high blood pressure, reflux, & a few other things clobbered us. We used an insurance agent & this was the best he could do for us. And it’s not $600, it’s almost $900 (and some months, our out-of-pocket expenses exceed that.

    I don’t know when you were a student, but I did the budget about 5 or 6 years ago. I couldn’t believe it at first either. It seemed way out of line, but I kept going over it & that’s what the 3 of them needed.

    RE: Insurance, I’d be interested in seeing that article when it’s finished. I’m surprised that lack of insurance is the same across income groups. However, one question that needs to be asked is the reason for the lack of insurance. Is the answer the same across income groups? Without that data, it’s hard to understand the distribution.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I suspect that insurance agents are no longer competitive in the way that they were before the advent of the internet. Self-service insurance seems like the way to go these days. I wouldn’t think that reflux or high blood pressure would alter rates that much. They’re common disorders which are easily treatable. If I were you I’d shop around and maybe use a website like ehealthinsurance.com. I bet you could do better.

    I was a student quite a while ago, but I was adjusting the income for inflation. I actually lived on $6000 a year in 1980s dollars. Of course, as a student I had a certain lifestyle flexibility. I could do without a car – or get by with a marginal car, and I lived with roomates to keep overhead down.

    >>However, one question that needs to be asked is the reason for the lack of insurance. Is the answer the same across income groups? Without that data, it’s hard to understand the distribution.<<

    I doubt I can actually find a definitive answer to that question. My guess would be that in the bottom 20% it’s necessity and in the top 20% it’s because they can pay their expenses without insurance. In the middle 60% it’s probably the result of cheapness, laziness or some sort of calculated choice.

    dave

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    I’ll try that internet approach. If we wind up with a better policy, I’ll name my first born after you…no wait, I’ve been fixed. I’ll do a blog post in your honor, lol.

  • Dr. Kurt

    Just a hypothetical:
    How much would small business & entrepenuers benefit if they didn’t have to fund health insurance (a for-profit enterprise) and retirement plans? Strictly a question: if single-payer non-for-profit plans are 3 to 6 times as efficient as our current health cost payers, then how much could our economy grow given this debt relief? Not an assertion – I am seeking info from all ya’ll policy wonks out there!

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Kurt, small businesses and entrepreneurs generally don’t pay for health insurance now. The system is changing, but up until relatively recently the group policies available for small businesses were just not worth the effort and expense. With recent market changes individually purchased insurance is becoming a more and more viable option, so there’s no longer much of an excuse for anyone who doesn’t qualify for medicaid not having at least some sort of basic insurance.

    As for the main question, I assume that by a single-payer system you’re talking about a natiional health system. On the whole they’re not more efficient, because they are less efficient, more bureaucratic and provide inferior service. I wrote an article a while back about the impact of this sort of healthcare on mortality rates from various diseases and the stats are pretty grim.

    Dave