Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tort Reform

I recently received a notice from my employer informing me that insurance premiums are going up. It stated that:

Several factors driving these increases include: 1) aging baby boomers; 2) direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising; 3) expensive new technology that increases providers' costs; and 4) growing litigation against doctors and hospitals.

Which of these factors could politicians who care about their constituents most easily do something about? Certainly, they could institute tort reform to curb the litigation explosion, but every time tort reform is proposed it is defeated by the trial lawyers and their lackeys in Congress.

Why is that? Which political party is most vigorously opposed to tort reform? Paradoxically, it's the party of the working man. Which party's current candidates for the presidency are both opposed to tort reform? Same answer. Which party is running a candidate for vice-president who is a trial lawyer who made his millions suing medical practitioners on the basis of junk science? Same answer.

If the Democrats win in November we can expect that litigation against doctors, drug companies, and hospitals will continue apace, and your and my insurance premiums will continue to rise. The Democratic party receives fat contributions from trial lawyer associations, and they're not about to do anything to upset their donors.

Who benefits from a lawsuit-intoxicated society? A few plaintiffs, to be sure, but the big winners are the trial lawyers who will continue to rake in their obscene fees at the expense of the rest of us out of whose pockets they ultimately come. The people are the losers. We lose by having to pay higher prices for drugs, services and goods, and we lose because those who provide those things are forced out of business or out of the area by the fear of legal judgments that they could never pay.

There really are four elements to this fleecing of the American citizen: There are avaricious and dopey plaintiffs like the woman who spilled a McDonald's coffee in her lap; there are unprincipled lawyers who, like professional assassins and prostitutes, hire themselves out to whoever can pay their fee; there are otiose jurors who are torn away from watching Oprah and the soaps long enough to listen to the facts of the case, render justice, and then return home in time to catch Jerry Springer reruns; and finally there are liberal judges who love nothing more than an opportunity to redistribute wealth even if it means killing the geese who are laying the golden eggs.

The legal system needs to be purged of the symbiotic coupling of greed and stupidity that currently pollutes it. It needs to be changed so that those who do have a legitimate case can get redress, but also so that those who don't, can't. We mustn't count on the Democrats, however, to come to the aid of the common man on this one, not as long as their buddies in the law firms stand to lose a couple of payments on their yachts if reform ever becomes a reality.

Help is on the way. Indeed.

More Best Movie Lists

Evangelical Outpost has a list gleaned from the National Catholic Register of the top ten "pro-Catholic" movies and the top ten "anti-Catholic" films. Here's the list:

The top 10 Top 10 "Pro-Catholic Movies" (as determined by an online poll of more than a 1,000 participants) include:

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

2. The Sound of Music (1985)

3. A Man For All Seasons (1966)

4. The Song of Bernadette (1943)

5. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

6. The Ten Commandments (1956)

7. The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

8. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

9. Schindler's List (1993)

10. The Bells of St Mary's (1945)

The ten most "anti-Catholic" movies, as chosen by a panel of judges, include:

1. The Order (2003)

2. The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

3. Sister Mary Explains it All (2001)

4. Chocolat (2000)

5. Stigmata (1999)

6. Dogma (1999)

7. Elizabeth (1998)

8. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

9. Priest (1994)

10. Agnes of God (1985)

It's been a long time since we've seen Sound of Music and Wonderful Life so maybe we're forgetting something, but Viewpoint wonders why they're on the list of top ten "pro-Catholic" films, but The Mission and Romero aren't.

Reply to a Friend

Yesterday Viewpoint posted an e-mail sent in reaction to a post of August 15th which compared two quotes, one from Ronald Reagan and one from John Kerry and added an editorial comment. My friend's reaction to this post falls victim to several fallacies. He writes, for instance that:

I suppose you presume that [your readers are] upper middle class...[and don't] believe in allowing the government to do justice, help the poor, build roads, pay teachers, enforce EPA guidelines, prosecute criminals, fund research on public health, wage wars, and all the other good stuff government sometimes does (and sometimes does well). Are there really people out there that don't appreciate the proper use of legitimate taxes?

Of course government does some things which are necessary and good. No one denies that. But to assume that we should just trust government always to do what is necessary and good, to always use our money wisely, is just wrong-headed. It doesn't follow that because government does some things with our tax dollars that we value, therefore everything, or even most things, it does with our money is good and valuable. The founding fathers of this nation had a healthy skepticism about placing power in the hands of fallible, sinful human beings and we do well to follow their example.

The answer to the question he asks at the end of the quoted section, of course, is that there probably are very few people who don't appreciate the proper use of taxes, but the question is beside the point. The relevant question is: What is the proper use of taxes and how do we restrict politicians to using the power to tax properly? Much of what government spends our money on is wasteful and counterproductive. From 1968 to 1996 the federal government spent 6 trillion dollars on the war against poverty and only made the problem worse (To understand the reasons why this is so read The Tragedy of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky which you can order here).

This is unconscionable, but my friend seems to suggest that because one opposes such inept, immoral exercises in futility which, though no doubt helping some, have devastated the families and lives of millions and wasted trillions of dollars, that one must be some sort of selfish, niggardly penny-pincher who lacks empathy for the poor. He writes:

Why this regular gripping about taxes and government? Are you really opposed to food stamps, a verifiably helpful and cost-effective government aid program? Do you think that the government ought not to be involved in any disaster relief? Can you imagine how those below the poverty line hoping for a small assistance grant for job training or allowance for heat take your attack?

I'd say, pick on somebody your own size, and let the children who are forced to live below poverty line alone. Let the handicapped elderly alone; stopping complaining about our modest help to the emaciated in the third world. Because, finally, that is who this... critique is aimed at.

In other words, because some government programs may be useful and good we should just shut up and fund whatever the government decides to do next, trusting Big Brother to always know what's best. We should all be "good Germans", do as we're told, and like it. No one is suggesting that we not help those who are in difficult straits. The question is how best to do it, and simply raising everyone's taxes and throwing the money at the problem has not shown itself to be a particularly effective approach to the problem.

The second, related, error my friend makes is in assuming that because people resent paying excessive taxes to a wasteful bureaucracy that therefore they resent paying any tax at all. No one but anarchists on the left and a few on the libertarian fringe thinks that we can simply end all taxation. No one resents paying his fair share, but what citizens consider their fair share and what a burgeoning government thinks is their fair share can be two different things.

Few people mind having their money go to programs that actually help those who need it, but they want this to be done as efficiently and fairly as possible. In the days before welfare reform something like 27 cents out of every welfare tax dollar actually went to the people who needed it, and even when it did it often was not used in ways that would bring relief to children.

The power to tax, however, is just one of government's prerogatives upon which citizens need to keep a wary eye. Another way government can have a corrosive, deleterious effect upon the lives of its citizens is through its attempts to "help" improve society by issuing mandates and regulations that small municipalities and businesses have to meet, but which make the goods and services they provide increasingly burdensome.

Consider just three examples from the dozens cited in Philip Howard's The Death of Common Sense (It can be ordered here) and the thousands that doubtless could be found.

In 1988 Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity agreed with the city of New York to purchase two fire-gutted buildings in order to turn them into temporary shelters for sixty four homeless men. The shelter would've had a kitchen a lounge, a dorm area, etc. The only problem was that the Missionaries of Charity, in addition to their vows of poverty, refuse to use modern conveniences. There would be no dishwashers, laundry facilities, etc. All of this would be done by hand. For two years the city bureaucracy held up the transfer of the property while they held hearings filled out forms and so on. Finally, after two years they were given permission to start their renovation only to be told every new or renovated building in the city requires an elevator. The Sisters said that they would never use it, it would cost $100,000, but the law was clear, they couldn't use the building unless they installed the elevator. The Sisters politely declined and withdrew their plans. Who was "helped" by this stupidity?

Upper New York State has a tradition of bed and breakfast tourist lodgings managed by families in old farmhouses. Fire codes were imposed, however, which required enclosed "fire stairs" and other renovations that were prohibitively expensive to comply with, causing many of these charming businesses to close. The tourists went to one-story motels and the families who ran the bed and breakfasts went out of business.

A restaurant in the northeast lacked handicapped access, but employees were assigned to help disabled patrons into the building whenever needed. Nevertheless, even though no one was inconvenienced or denied service at the eatery, OSHA demanded that they make their building wheel-chair accessible which the owners simply could not afford to do. Thus they were forced to close, putting all their employees out of work and denying their patrons, abled and disabled, a place to dine.

Extrapolate these horror stories about government "helpfulness" across the nation and over the thirty four years since 1970 and you get some idea of why Ronald Reagan said that the most feared words in America are "We're from the government and we're here to help you," and why John Kerry's assurance that government help is "on the way" should make us a little suspicious, if not uneasy.

It's a neat polemical trick to suggest that one is insufficiently concerned with the elderly, poor, and unfortunate because he is skeptical of government's ability to engineer and manage programs to help these people. It's easy to point to some of the good things expansive government has accomplished and conclude that therefore government always does good. The fact is, however, that government can more easily do harm than do good, but unless citizens are skeptical of its motives and abilities the harm it does will never be diminished.