Fisking Ebert

Roger Ebert is one of the great film critics (check out the insight of the last two paragraphs of today’s review). There are very few who can get a general audience excited about art films and Ebert is one of them. He’s never been a cafeclatche critic who just wants to sit around with other critics and discuss Citizen Kane. He wants everyone to be excited about great film. He’s turned me on to a number of great films, notably Grave of the Fireflies.

So it pains me to say that, when it comes to politics, Ebert has the IQ of a tennis ball. A deflated tennis ball. Let’s fisk his review of Sicko, shall we?

Her death came too late to be included in “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s litany of horrors about the American health care system, which is run for profit, and insurance companies, which pay bonuses to employees who are successful in denying coverage or claims.

Notice the jab about “for profit”. I suppose doctors and hospitals should just do medicine out of the goodness of their hearts. Never take home a salary or nothing. All our food — which is far more critical to our survival than healthcare — is provided “for profit” too. our “for profit” private education system beats the snot out of our public system by any measure. “For profit” oil companies have given us the cheapest gas on the planet and “for profit” movie companies produce great films.

Damn those profits!

The jab about insurance companies circles around to the fundamental problem, which socialized medicine would only make worse: decision-making in medicine is not in the hands of the patient. Insurance companies only have to answer to the patient’s employer, if they have to answer at all. If more people were buying their own insurance, the companies would be more answerable to the consumer. If the government is providing the insurance, they will be answerable, as we have learned, to no one.

After discussing his own health woes, he says:

So I have only one complaint, and it is this: Every American should be as fortunate as I have been. As Moore makes clear in his film, some 50 million Americans have no insurance and no way to get it.

Giving everyone the high-end insurance Roger Ebert has would be horrendously expensive, vastly increasing the amount of money we already pour into it. I thought we were trying to cut costs. Essentially, Ebert wants everyone, rich or poor, to have a rich-guy lifestyle. At taxpayer expense.

Of course, the biggest reason 40 million (not 50) have no insurance at all is that the states mandate expensive insurance. In many parts of this country, cheap insurance that would cover disaster scenarios (akin to your home or auto insurance) is illegal. Congress had to specially authorize HSA’s. And for most Americans, if your employer isn’t providing your insurance, you can’t get it. These are things the government could fix at no cost. And both would involve getting the consumer back into the game.

But then again, if we got millions and millions of people insurance at no government cost, the calls for socialized medicine would cease, wouldn’t they? Can’t have that.

We also learn a lot about drug companies and HMOs in the film. It is an item of faith in some circles that drug companies need their profits to finance research and development. Out of a dollar of profit, what percentage would you guess goes to R&D, and what percentage goes to advertising and promotion, multimillion-dollar executive salaries, corporate jets, palatial headquarters, bonuses and stockholders?

In a free market, it’s none of my damn business. In a free market, companies that wasted money like this would lose customers – whereas in the restricted market of the US, the get more big employer contracts.

And how many brilliant rich people would put their money into a high-risk game like pharmaceuticals if it weren’t for the profits they could make? Ever hear of the invisible hand?

Moore plays 1971 tapes from the Oval Office as Nixon discusses the original Kaiser plan for an HMO. “It’s for profit,” he says admiringly. Have you ever understood exactly what benefit an HMO provides while it stands between you and the medical care system and acts as a toll bridge? Do its profits not depend on supplying as little health care as possible, at the lowest possible price?

I think he means “at the highest possible price”. But again, note the hippy BS: corporate profits baaad, corporate profits baaaad.

Of course, Hillary and her ilk wanted us all to be in HMO’s ten years ago. That’s the thing that pisses me off every time I read the “damn the HMOs!” meme. The same people who, ten years ago, were proclaiming HMOs as a salvation, are now slagging them.

And Roger, have you ever understood exactly what benefit a socialized system provides while it stands between you and the medical care system and acts as a literal toll bridge (tolls being a form of tax)? Do its budgetary constraints not depend on supplying as little health care as possible, at the lowest possible price? Ask the denizen of these socialized paradises if they feel like they’re in control of their healthcare.

Moore visits the countries of Canada, England, France and Cuba, all of which have (1) universal health care and (2) a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the United States.

Also, less violence, less obesity, fewer car crashes, less drug use, less alcholism . . . it’s funny how much healthier people are when they stop doing dumb things to their bodies.

One woman is on $1,000-a-month disability, and needs $240 a month for her inhaler medication. Moore’s gimmick (he always has one, but this one is dramatic) is to take her to a Cuban hospital where she finds that her medication costs five cents in Cuba. At least that R&D money is helping Cubans.

I’m sure that’s not staged at all. That sentence could equally read, “at least our high prices are paying for Cuba’s price controls”. Here’s an idea: why don’t we have our own government fight to get others to remove their price controls so our prices come down? Or why don’t more people shop around, like at warehouse clubs, where generics are often 90% less than in retail drug stores?

Or maybe we could modify the CFC ban which got rid of cheap inhalers in the first place.

Conservative governments in Canada, England and France all support universal health care; the United States is the only developed nation without it.

And, strangely enough, also the only nation where you can get, say, salivary gland cancer removed within weeks, if not days, of diagnosis, instead of months. God knows, if other countries are doing something stupid, we should jump right in! Say goodbye to free speech.

There are four health care lobbyists for every congressman.

Tell me something, Roger. If political activists were talking about federal agencies taking over the movie review business, to make sure all movies were reviewed fairly and you weren’t making too much money, would you not want a few lobbyists in Washington?

And tell me something else: if the government were to take over even more of healthcare, do you think the lobbying will increase or decrease?

Monday Linkorama

I’ve got a couple of big posts cooking. In the meantime:

  • WSJ revisits the New Deal and FDR. Bruce Bartlette also commented on how Herbert Hoover’s protectionism was a primary basis for the Depression. Historians are generally way too worshipful of politicans who “do things” and assert authority. They ignore great men like Coolidge who created great economies through benign neglect.
  • In that vein, I finished Team of Rivals. If it weren’t for Goodwin’s celebrity status, I don’t think the book would be that popular. As a political history of Lincoln’s tenure, with an emphasis on the times he lived in and the back-room deal-cutting that makes politics work, it’s good. As an objective history of Lincoln, it doesn’t. My full review is here.
  • I’ve been writing about this for some time, but James Taylor (no, not that one), has a great takedown of Mr. Age of Reason, AlGore. You can’t rant about using fear as a political tool and then turn around and use fear as a political tool.
  • The Bad Astronomer explains the latest cosmological breakthrough. Astounding. If true.