LESSONS LEARNED #65: “The only thing the market is inefficient at is funneling money to anti-business politicians.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2011

Microsoft Learns the hard way about the Costs of Lobbying

Once upon a time Microsoft had no lobbyists.  Microsoft grew to dominate the PC operating system with no help from the government.  Bill Gates became the richest man in the world with no help from the government.  And how did that go over with the government?  Not well.

Because of complaints by Microsoft’s competitors, the U.S. Justice Department began antitrust proceedings against Microsoft.  The complaint?  Microsoft was giving away something for free that others wanted to sell.  A web browser program.  Internet Explorer (IE), to be specific.  The competitors said that Microsoft had an unfair advantage when they bundled IE with their operating system.  Because why would people pay for something that they can get for free?  Consumers never complained about getting something free.  Just other corporations trying to make consumers pay for something that they could get free from Microsoft.  So the Justice Department went after Microsoft so consumers could no longer get something for free.  In other words, the antitrust case against Microsoft was to raise prices.  Which is kind of the opposite reason for an antitrust case.

Government may not know how to create or expand business activity.  But they sure know how to hurt a business.  Microsoft still bundles IE with their operating system.  But they learned a very important lesson.  And, today, Microsoft spends millions of dollars on lobbyists.  To lobby politicians for nothing in particular.  But to pay tribute.

There was no Health Care Cost Crisis before World War II

Once upon a time people paid their doctor’s bill.  Really.  They’d see their doctors.  The doctor would bill them.  And they would pay.  Of course, that was a long time ago in a mystical place.  The United States.  Before World War II.  Yeah, I know.  Crazy talk.  Paying your doctor’s bill.  But some crazy sons of bitches really did. 

Of course, back then, medicine wasn’t socialized yet.  Market forces controlled medical costs.  How, you may ask?  Simple.  The people ‘buying’ the medical services paid the bill.  Medical services were just another service provided by licensed professionals.  Like a plumber.   And though plumbers are expensive, they are affordable.  Because if they weren’t affordable, there wouldn’t be a market for their plumbing services.  As it was for doctors.  Before World War II.  Doctor services were affordable.  Because if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a market for their medical services.  And it worked like this until World War II.  When health care became a benefit.  And benefit administrators came between buyers and sellers of medical services.

Let’s do a little experiment.  Let’s say you work for a company that is putting together a company picnic.  The company is paying the tab for all 20 employees attending.  And you get a company credit card to buy the food with no restrictions given.  What are you going to buy?  Hotdogs and hamburgers?  Or filet mignon?  Now, later in the summer, you’re having a family BBQ.  There’ll be 20 people in all.  But this time you’re paying the entire bill.  What are you going to buy?  Hotdogs and hamburgers?  Or filet mignon?  Chances are that you’ll be eating different food at these events.

The Price Mechanism doesn’t work if someone else Pays our Bills

Do you see how having someone else pay for your benefits affects your purchasing decisions?  You’ll be enjoying filet mignon on the company’s dime.  But you’ll be satisfied with hotdogs and hamburgers on your dime.  This is the problem in post World War II health care.  There are no market forces anymore in health care.  Someone else is paying for your benefits.  So you don’t care what the costs are.  So you’ll never object to getting the filet mignon of health care benefits.  Even if you’re a single guy.  And your employer is paying for insurance that includes breast and cervix exams.  If you were paying the full cost of your health insurance bill, though, you probably would not pay for breast and cervix exams.  Sure, they’re nice.  But as a guy you would probably never use these benefits.  So you probably wouldn’t pay for them.

This is a big reason why health care costs are so out of control today.  There are no market forces in play to control costs.  Other people pay for our benefits.  So we never ask, “Can I afford this?”  Which everyone does before hiring a plumber.  Dr. Gratzer, a physician and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote that Americans pay only twelve cents for every dollar of health care services they receive.  Which means 88% of the American health care is already socialized medicine.  In other words, other people pay for 88% of an American’s health care.  And when other people are paying, how often do you ask, “How much does this cost?”

This is why health care costs are out of control.  Elsewhere in the economy prices serve as a mechanism to adjust supply and demand.  Not in health care.  No one knows the prices in health care.  Because no one asks.  And the further we go in this direction the worse it’s going to get.  Yet that is exactly the direction some in government want to take health care.  Why?

Politicians Matter more than the Cost of Health Care

Because the market is efficient.  It works very well when left alone.  Just ask Bill Gates.  Or anyone who saw a doctor before World War II.  The market works.  But it has one drawback.  It doesn’t need government.  And for those who are looking for a career in politics, that’s a problem.

Microsoft wasn’t harming any consumers.  They were hurting other businesses that couldn’t make consumers spend more money.  So the politicians stepped in.  To show they mattered.  And cared.  Also, Microsoft was obscenely wealthy.  A little lobbying on their part could fill a few campaign war chests.  And provide a nice vacation or two.  They just needed to see the light.  How things worked in Washington.

But becoming a senator or a representative needs more than a fat war chest.  You need people to vote for you.  And a good way to do that is to get as many people dependent on government as possible.  Either as patients in a new national health care system.  Or as employees in a vast new bureaucracy for the new national health care system.  Which is why they’re not turning to the free market to fix the cost problems in their health care system.  Like they are in the UK and Canada.  They don’t want to fix the cost problems.  They want the dependency created by a new national health care system.  They can worry about costs later.  After they’ve taken over one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #65: “The only thing the market is inefficient at is funneling money to anti-business politicians.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 10th, 2011

The Natural Order and a good Last Name

There are two types of people in America.  Those who work.  And elitists who want others to work for them.  It’s been this way since the dawn of civilization.  One group asserted their power over the masses.  The masses then worked.  The ruling elite didn’t.  They just gave the work orders.  The masses dutifully followed their orders and grew the food.  The ruling elite took in the bounty and ate until they were full.  And then some.  While famine thinned out the masses.  It was the natural order once upon a time.  And those who held dominion over the land liked it.

Land, then, was key.  The aristocracy owned the land.  Hence we called them the landed aristocracy.  They owned the land, the food and the wealth.  And the people.  In European and Russian feudalism there were serfs.  In the antebellum American South there were slaves.  The landed aristocracy may buy and sell land and move.  But the serfs/slaves stayed on the land.  Forever.  As their parents did.  As their children would.  It was the natural order.

Your name was very important in the landed aristocracy.  For land was hereditary.  As was wealth.  As was political power.  And it stayed this way for a long time.  While everyone who worked farmed.  But over time, something happened.  People got smarter.  They were able to grow food surpluses.  And they took these surpluses to markets.  Which became cities.  Where we saw the rise of artisans.  Skilled people who made tools and crafts that further improved our lives.  Allowed people to leave the farms.  And create a middle class.  Greatest thing that ever happened for the masses.  It allowed a way out from the back-breaking toil of working the land.  Even if you didn’t have a ‘good’ last name.

Representative Government changes the Natural Order

Of course, not everyone was keen about this.  Because it disrupted the natural order of things.  And threatened the old power structures.  Some adjusted.  Some shared the power.  Like in England.  Where there was a representative government.  There was a bicameral house.  The Parliament.  Representing all people.  The rich in the House of Lords.  And the common people in the House of Commons.  And, of course, the king.  Who represented the king.  And the state.  Now, kings like to wage war.  Conquer.  And add to empire.  But it takes soldiers and sailors to fight.  And money to pay for armies and navies.  Which the king didn’t have.  The rich people had the money.  The landed aristocracy.  The Lords.  So the king just couldn’t wage war unless Parliament consented.  Pretty nice thing this check on power.  This representative government.  It made for happy subjects.

It wasn’t like this in France. While the English were checking the king’s power, the French monarchy was absolute.  It  could do whatever it wanted.  And did.  Spent a lot of money.  Ran up great debts.  Fought a lot of wars.  Including the Seven Years’ War that lost much of French North America to Great Britain.  And helped the Americans in their War of Independence.  Helping them to gain their independence from the British monarchy.  Which proved to be a deadly game for the French monarchy.  For the French people grew fond of representative government themselves.  And they thought if the Americans can overthrow king-rule maybe they could, too.  So they gave it a try.  The French Revolution was a bit bloodier than the American Revolution, but it got the job done.  France, too, had a representative government.  Until Napoleon declared himself emperor, of course.  And then he did a lot of kingly things.  Waged war.  Conquered.  Built empire.  And added to the debt.

Great Britain gave up on minority rule.  France tried to hang on to it, lost it then Napoleon got it back.  The reason minority rule failed in these countries is because a minority ruling power needs money.  And it was easier to get money in an agrarian economy.  When all the wealth was concentrated in the few who owned the land.  The rise of a middle class changed all of that.  Artisans and merchants made a lot of money.  Some even without ‘good’ last names.  The people who didn’t have to kiss any royal ass to get or maintain their wealth.  It was a whole new game out there.  Minority rulers needed to find another way to amass money and power.  And they found it.  In the ‘lie’.

Lies from Marxism to Socialism

A ruling power lying wasn’t anything new.  But some of the lies were.  Marxism, for example, was a new brilliant lie.  It made those the ruling elite wanted to oppress ask to be oppressed.  In the name of egalitarianism.  Rise up you miserable oppressed factory workers.  Attack the industrial bourgeoisie (i.e., the middle class).  You have nothing to lose but your chains.  Karl Marx may have believed the claptrap he wrote.  But those who used it could care less about the underlying philosophy.  They just liked the power it gave them.  So those who aspired to rise to power and rule over the majority led worker revolutions.  And after they won, the workers went back to suffering just as they had before.  Only they had less.  Because the communist commissars knew jack squat about the means of production.  But that was okay.  For it just helped to enslave the masses more.  Well, that.  And the brutal police state that discouraged any inappropriate behavior.  Or thought.

It was a good run for the communist powers that be.  While the masses suffered they lived a very comfortable life.  Just like the landed aristocracy of old.  Unfortunately for them, their ruling policies sent their economies into nosedives.  And they suffered recurring famines.  Marxism was a failure.  The ruling elite knew it.  And most of the people knew it, too.  Often, those who could escape from their communist utopias did.  Because they were anything but utopian.  So those aspiring to ascend to the ruling elite needed a new lie.  And they found it in communism-light.  Socialism.  Which appealed to the people they wanted to oppress for the same reasons Marxism did.  It would stick it to the rich in an egalitarian utopia.

But there was little difference between Marxism and socialism.  Both systems tried to manage the economy.  And both did a horrible job.  Why?  Because state planning is not about improving the lives of those they rule over.  It’s about maintaining power.  An economy left alone will always outperform a managed economy.  Everyone knows this.  But if they leave the economy alone, how can the ruling elite amass power and wealth?  It can’t.  Ergo, the lie continues.  Not to improve the lives of the masses.  But to improve the lives of the ruling elite.  The minority power.  Who only ascends to power by a good lie.

Wealth Redistribution Killed the Golden Goose

The free market does have one inefficiency.  It does not enrich those who do not partake in it.  The ruling elite aspire to be in a minority rule for a couple of reasons.  First of all, when you’re stealing from and oppressing the people, the fewer people in the ruling elite the wealthier each member gets.  Which is what they want.  Wealth.  And being in the ruling elite gives them access to wealth.  Because they are so completely untalented that they could never make any wealth in the free market.  So they use the lie to acquire their wealth.  To live the good life.  Like the landed aristocracy of old.

So they become the champion of the working man and woman.  And promise to deliver that egalitarian society via wealth redistribution.  They promise to tax the rich.  And give to those who will vote for them.  It has proven to be a very effective system.  And in its heyday they were reaping in the money.  Even found a way to funnel tax money directly to them via public sector union dues.  But they just got too greedy.  Pulled too many people into the new aristocracy.  And too many people out of the work force who paid the taxes that paid for their comfortable lives of plenty.

The taxes and policies of the ruling elite have grown so anti-business that it’s reduced economic activity.  And tax generation.  So not only have they bloated the public sector with nonworking people and reduced the taxpaying workforce, they killed the golden goose as well.  And no lie may change the mess they created.  They may have no choice but to unfetter the free market.  And get real jobs.

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