Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why People Don't Believe Him

Newsweek columnist George Will explains why President Obama seems to be the victim of a strange kind of inverse relationship. The more he talks the less people believe what he says. The President has played so fast and loose with so many matters involving the people's money, most lately health care reform, that people respond to his words like they respond to the guy in the bar who's always spinning yarns that everyone knows aren't true.

Here are a few excerpts from Will's incisive column:

On the 233rd day of his presidency, Barack Obama grabbed the country's lapels for the 263rd time-that was, as of last Wednesday, the count of his speeches, press conferences, town halls, interviews, and other public remarks. His speech to Congress was the 122nd time he had publicly discussed health care. Just 14 hours would pass before the 123rd, on Thursday morning. His incessant talking cannot combat what it has caused: An increasing number of Americans do not believe that he believes what he says.

He says America's health-care system is going to wrack and ruin and requires root-and-branch reform-but that if you like your health care (as a large majority of Americans do), nothing will change for you. His slippery new formulation is that nothing in his plan will "require" anyone to change coverage. He used to say, "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period." He had to stop saying that because various disinterested analysts agree that his plan will give many employers incentives to stop providing coverage for employees.

He deplores "scare tactics" but says that unless he gets his way, people will die. He praises temperate discourse but says many of his opponents are liars. He says Medicare is an exemplary program that validates government's prowess at running health systems. But he also says Medicare is unsustainable and going broke, and that he will pay for much of his reforms by eliminating the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in this paragon of a program, and in Medicaid. He says Congress will cut Medicare (it will not) by $500 billion-without affecting benefits.

He says the nation's economic health depends on controlling health-care costs. Yet so important is the trial bar in financing the Democratic Party, he says not a syllable in significant and specific support of tort reforms that could save hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing "defensive medicine" intended to protect not patients from illnesses but doctors from lawyers. He has said he will not add a dime to the deficit when bringing 47 million people into government-guaranteed health care. But Wednesday night, 17 million went missing: "There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage." Almost 10 million of the uninsured are not citizens, and most of them are illegal immigrants.

Presumably the other 7 million could get insurance but chose not to. Democrats propose fines to eliminate that choice. He suggests health-insurance companies are making excessive profits. But since 1996, profits of the six such companies in the S&P 500 have been below the 500's average. He says a "public option"-a government insurance program-would not be subsidized to enable it to compete unfairly with private insurers. (The post office and the government's transportation -"public option," Amtrak, devour subsidies.) He says the public option is vital for keeping health insurers "honest"-but that it is only a wee "sliver" of reform.

The President is either confused about his proposals or he's deliberately trying to deceive the American people into thinking that those proposals are something that they're not. In either case, he has just about exhausted the confidence the electorate placed in him last November. If he turns out to be a one-term President it won't be because of racism, or because people misrepresented his policies, or because of congressional Democrats (although they're trying hard to ensure that the voters get fed up with the President's party). If Barack Obama fails to win the support of the electorate in 2012 it will be largely because voters simply don't believe that he knows what he's talking about or that he's telling them the truth.


Norman Borlaug - Hero

Contrary to the faux heroes offered up by our celebrity culture most real heroes are people we've never heard of. Such, perhaps, was Norman Borlaug who died recently at the age of 95. Borlaug was an agronomist who won a Nobel prize in 1970 for having saved from hunger hundreds of millions of starving peasants around the world.

Guy Sorman tells his story in a piece at City Journal. The account of how Borlaug's work on developing strains of wheat and rice to relieve famine conditions in Mexico and India is fascinating in itself, and I hope you'll read it, but there's also an ideological moral to the story.

Sorman writes:

Borlaug was no innocent scientist: he knew that science could feed the world only when political conditions were right. In the case of India and Mexico, the semi-dwarf wheat and rice worked marvels because the farmers owned their own land. As private owners, they had a vested interest in using more expensive seeds that would produce a higher yield. Local authorities provided the water for irrigation: both the Mexican and Indian governments did it right, later followed by Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. But without private entrepreneurs, the Green Revolution would not have taken place. While touring the world, Borlaug always stressed that seeds by themselves could not eradicate hunger. Private property, entrepreneurship, and reliable governments were essential prerequisites.

Borlaug's pro-market advocacy did not please everyone in the Third World. The Indian Left always saw the Green Revolution as an engine of injustice, and it attacked Borlaug for generating a social divide. It's true that the most dynamic farmers in India did become wealthy, but the poor became poorer only relative to the new bourgeoisie.

As it was with the Left in India so it is with the Left everywhere. They seem to prefer that everyone be hungry rather than see a few get wealthy. They think that collectivism and socialism can solve food shortages despite the fact that the history of the twentieth century has consistently been one of capitalist countries sending food to hungry people in socialist countries. One reason why third world nations remain mired in poverty and hunger is because they've adopted an unworkable socialist model which removes all incentives for farmers to work hard to produce a surplus. Yet we keep hearing, even from many in our country, that private property and private enterprise are great evils even as American agriculture continues to help feed the world.

Those who believe that socialism would do better might offer some indication of how many hungry children socialism fed in the 20th century.