Labor Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 19th, 2012

Economics 101

Small Business Owners may have Nicer Homes but Chances are they are Mortgaged to the Hilt

A lot of people think business owners are cheapskates.  Greedy bastards.  Who hate their employees.  And try to pay them as little as possible.  Not for any business reasons.  But just because they are so greedy.  And hateful.  During bad economic times when the employer has to make some cuts labor leaders will tell the rank and file don’t believe the employer.  “Just look at the house the boss lives in.  And the house you live in.  Whose is better?  Bigger?  That’s right.  The boss’ house is.  Always remember that.”

Yes, bosses may have nicer homes.  But chances are they are mortgaged to the hilt.  Not to mention the fact that these bosses may be working an 80-hour week.  Which is not uncommon for a small business owner.  Especially during bad economic times.  As they may be negotiating with creditors, their banker, their vendors, keeping their customers happy and trying to find new customers.  While the rank and file work their 40 hours, collect their paychecks and enjoy their free time.

So it’s not easy being the boss.  That’s why so few people want to be the boss.  For it’s easier being an employee.  You work.  You get paid.  And you leave work at work.  Even if you think you’re not being paid as much as you deserve to be.  Something most employees feel.  That they’re overworked.  And underpaid.  But they never look at things through their employer’s eyes.  And see what they really cost their boss.

Most Businesses have gone from a Defined Benefit Pension Plan to a Defined Contribution 401(k)

What an employee gets paid and what an employer pays for that employee are two different things.  To begin with an employer pays for more hours of an employee’s time than he or she actually works.  When you factor in vacation time, holidays and sick days an employer may pay for 2,080 hours while the employee only works 1,896 hours.  If an employee makes $35 an hour those nonworking hours can add up to $6,440.  Which an employee gets for doing nothing.  We call them fringe benefits.  Just an employer’s way of saying, “Hey, I don’t hate you.  Here’s some money for doing nothing.”

Why do they pay this?  Because of free market capitalism.  If they don’t pay it someone else may.  And attract their good workers away from them.  Because if there is something employees will do is jump ship the moment they get a better offer.  Which is a good thing.  This is supply and demand.  And despite workers feeling overworked and underpaid this free market dynamic makes sure employees get paid as much as they can while helping employers pay as little as they can.  That equilibrium point where employees will keep working.  While leaving employers still competitive.  Though that’s getting harder and harder to do these days.  As the cost of doing business has never been higher.

In addition to these fringe benefits there are also health insurance, life insurance and retirement contributions.  With health care often being the greatest single employee cost to a small business owner.  Which is why most now make employees pay a small portion of their health care these days.  Retirement contributions have also gotten very costly.  Few people still have a defined benefit pension plan these days.  Typically an owner will offer a defined contribution 401(k) for the employee to contribute to.  And if times are good the employer may match their contribution up to a certain amount.  But employers will call this a discretionary contribution.  And it will be one of the first things to go when they are having cash flow problems in a bad economy.

The Last Thing a Business Owner needs while trying to Deal with Soaring Labor Costs are more Costs and Taxes

In addition to fringe benefits there are payroll taxes and insurances.  Such as Social Security.  Which the employer and employee split.  At least in theory.  The employer currently pays 6.2% on the first $110,100 in an employee’s earnings.  The employee kicks in 4.2% (which may go up another 2 points after the fiscal cliff, as that tax cut expires).  In reality the employee doesn’t pay any of this.  They get their check and go on their way while the employer has to find the cash to pay the 10.4% due.  For an employee earning $66,360 that Social Security tax payable comes to $7,571.  Another big check the owner has to write is for state unemployment.  Which can be anywhere around $4,000.  The following chart summarizes these and additional labor costs (note: the retirement contribution is probably between a 401(k) matching contribution and a defined benefit pension contribution).

An employee with a pay rate of $35/hour will gross $66,360.  Deductions will lower actual take-home pay.  But the employer’s total cost for this employee in this example is $108,252.  Or an additional $41,892 than the employee grosses.  Which comes out to another $17.04 an hour.  Something the employee never sees.  This is why labor is so costly.  And why employers want to hire as few people as possible.  For each additional employee they hire (in this example) they have to pay an additional 22.2% in payroll taxes/insurances.  And an additional 41% in fringe benefits.  Or a combined 63.1%.  In addition to what they’re paying the employees for their actual work.

And this is why employers want to offload health care (especially for their retirees).  And their pension liabilities.  As they can add an additional 30% (or more) to their labor costs.  What started out as fringe benefits to attract some of the best workers is now bankrupting many companies.  People are living so long into their retirement that these cost are growing faster and larger than any other cost a business has.  And it’s also why small business owners are very worried about new regulations and taxes.  For the last thing they need while trying to deal with these soaring labor costs are more costs.  Or taxes.  Which doesn’t make them cheap or greedy.  It just makes them very cautious business owners who are trying to keep their businesses afloat in an ever more difficult business environment.

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FT123: “It takes both a tax rate and economic activity to generate tax revenue.” – Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 22nd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

There is an Incredible Amount of Economic Activity behind a 20-Ounce Bottle of Soda Pop 

Have you ever considered all of the economic activity that had to happen before you could buy a cold 20-ounce bottle of soda pop from a convenience store?  First of all, building that convenience store itself required a lot of building supplies.  And construction workers to build it.  People in factories hired people and bought materials to build the food equipment, coffee equipment and coolers.  The people utilities hire make sure the store has access to electric power, gas, water, sewage, telephone and Internet access.  Transportation companies deliver food and merchandise to the store.  Who buy trucks and vans from dealerships who buy them from automotive manufacturers.  They hire drivers for their vehicles and workers for their warehouses.  They buy fuel for their vehicles.  Refineries provide the fuel and they hire people and buy petroleum oil.   Which provides more jobs in the pipeline, railroad, trucking, shipping and oil drilling industries.  Who all hire people and buy things built by other people.

The food and merchandise came from plants that hire people and buy material.  The one brand of soda pop you purchase hires many employees and operates one or more bottling plants.  They buy advertising that provides jobs for others.  They buy cans and bottles that come from suppliers who make them out of raw material that still others extract out of the ground.  These suppliers hire even more people and buy even more materials.  There is label or artwork on the cans or bottles that other people are hired somewhere to provide.  Their offices operate with computers and software built, shipped, installed and programmed by others.  They maintain a web presence which creates further jobs.  Their employees use smart phones the company purchased from others who hire people and material to build them.  And hire even more people to maintain and operate the networks.

And the list goes on.  There is an incredible amount of economic activity behind that 20-ounce bottle of soda pop.  In a vast complex of horizontal and vertical business relationships.  Each providing their little part in the big picture that lets us walk conveniently into a convenience store whenever we want and buy a cool and refreshing beverage in a 20-ounce bottle.  Now multiply this for every product in that store.  And for every store in the country.  Millions of people working in millions of jobs earning a paycheck.  And each paycheck deducts payroll taxes.  Such as Social Security, Medicare, state unemployment, federal unemployment and workers’ compensation.  Each check (in most states) deducts federal and state income withholding taxes.  Some cities even deduct a city withholding tax.  Businesses pay taxes on their earnings.  On their personal and real property.  Just as homeowners pay real property taxes on their homes.  And there’s more.

In 1992 the Middle Class paid approximately 40% of their Total Earnings in Taxes

If you look at your cellular bill there are taxes itemized on it.  When you go to the store you pay a sales tax on most purchases other than food.  Some people even pay a city sales tax.  If you buy cigarettes or drink alcoholic beverages you pay an excise tax.  Or sin tax.  They tax the gasoline you buy for your car to pay for the roads we drive on.  If you buy sugar in the store you’re paying a sugar tariff.  If you make a capital gain on your investments you pay a capital gains tax.  And on and on.  Throughout that complex of horizontal and vertical business relationships there are taxes.  Just as consumers pay taxes throughout their ordinary day.  It adds up.  According to CATO, in 1960 the middle class paid about 30% of their total earnings in taxes of every kind at every level.  In 1992 that number rose to 40%.  And is no doubt rising.

Staying with the 1992 number, this means for every dollar you earn you ultimately can only spend 60 cents of that dollar on you.  The other 40 cents goes to some governmental coffer.  Or looking at it in another way say you gross $800 a week.  Your net pay will be less for the taxes you see withheld from your paycheck.  But when you add the other taxes you don’t see you really only get to spend $480 of that $800 you earned.  Or if you gross $41,600 annually you’ll be paying approximately $16,640 in taxes of every kind at every level of government.  In a word – ouch.

Yeah, we all know that we pay a lot in taxes.  Most of us are just resigned to it.  But with all these debt crises (at the city, state, federal and international levels) it does make you think a little more about all those taxes we pay.  And the cries to get the rich to pay their ‘fair share’.  The amount of taxes the rich pay are even worse.  The percentage numbers may be lower if they pay a lower capital gains tax rate on an investment portfolio, but they are paying from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions in tax dollars.  Which dwarfs our $16,640.  Yes, they can afford it more than those less rich can.  But that misses an important point.  Tax rates alone do not make tax revenue.  You have to have a prosperous economy, too.

The more People that are Working the more People pay Payroll, Income, Excise and Property Taxes

You cannot tax yourself to economic prosperity.  For if the number of jobs remains the same while we increase tax rates that will only leave businesses and consumers with less money to spend to create economic activity.  And when they spend less in economic exchanges all those taxes we apply to those economic exchanges will generate less tax revenue.  This is why cities, states and national governments have deficits during poor economic times.  Because there is less economic activity to tax.  All you have to do is some simple arithmetic to see why.

Say there is a city with 250,000 working middle class people.  Each earning on average $41,600.  So each contributes $16,640 in taxes at the various levels of government.  Or $4.16 billion in total tax revenue.  Now say a recession comes along.  And the city suffers 10% unemployment.  Putting 25,000 people on the unemployment rolls.  This will reduce that tax revenue down to $3.74 billion.  Or reducing tax revenue at every level by $416 million.  Just about a half billion dollars in lost tax revenue.  All while government benefits increase at every level to cover those 25,000 unemployed.  Add a second city and that could add up to $1 billion in lost tax revenue.  Ten cities could reduce tax revenue at all levels by $5 billion.  Causing deficits at the city, state and federal levels.  It adds up.  And they cannot make up those shortfalls by increasing tax rates.  Because higher taxes reduce economic activity.  Which is what generates those tax revenues.

Now consider the alternative.  Say the government removed some costly regulations for businesses.  Or they repealed Obamacare.  But only removed some costly regulations while leaving tax rates as they are.  This business-friendly environment would encourage businesses to rehire people.  Let’s say they rehire all 25,000 laid-off employees.  If they did they would, of course, restore that lost $416 million in tax revenue.  Without raising tax rates on anyone.  The point being that you can’t generate tax revenue without economic activity.  So any policy that would discourage economic activity would reduce tax revenue.  For the more people that are working the more people pay payroll and income taxes.  The more people that are working the more money consumers will have to spend and pay taxes on their purchases.  And the more people that are working the more houses they will buy which would bring in more property taxes.  Higher tax rates can’t make this happen.  Only economic activity can.

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The Democrats Prove there is no such thing as a Social Security Trust Fund

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 25th, 2011

Week in Review

So much for that Social Security trust fund (see The GOP’s payroll tax debacle by Charles Krauthammer posted 12/22/2011 on The Washington Post).

This is a $121 billion annual drain on the Treasury that makes a mockery of the Democrats’ reverence for the Social Security trust fund and its inviolability. Obama’s OMB director took Social Security completely off the table in debt-reduction talks under the pretense that Social Security is self-financing. This is pure fiction, because the Treasury supplies whatever shortfalls Social Security faces. But now, with the payroll tax holiday, the administration openly demonstrates bad faith — conceding with its actions that the payroll tax is, after all, interchangeable with other revenue and never actually sequestered to ensure future payments to retirees.

This is the real reason why the Democrats are so steadfast against privatizing Social Security.  They want that money.  Our contributions to our retirement.  And if we privatize it they can’t spend it.  And if we privatize and die our heirs get our unspent retirement money.  The government doesn’t get to keep it.

The Democrats also love Social Security to scare old people with.  By saying the Republicans want to take it away.  And yet here they are.  The only funding mechanism for Social Security, those payroll taxes, is going on holiday.  The Democrats are defunding Social Security for two months.  Now that means one of two things.  They don’t care about the money being there for our seniors.  Or this 2 month holiday doesn’t amount to much money to either the Social Security trust fund.  Or the economy.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #75: “Lower income tax rates generate more tax revenue by making more rich people who pay more income taxes.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 19th, 2011

The top 1% of Earners pay close to 40% of all Federal Income Taxes

Poor people pay little income taxes.  Rich people pay a lot of income taxes.  Everyone else pays somewhere in between.  The tool to make this happen is the progressive tax system.  Government designed it so that people with more income pay more taxes.   Via progressive tax brackets.  And the current (2010-2011) brackets (for head of household) are:

  • 10% on first $12,150
  • 15% on income from $12,150 – $46,250
  • 25% on income from $46,250 – $119,400
  • 28% on income from $119,400 – $193,350
  • 33% on income from $193,350 – $379,150
  • 35% on income over $379,150

If you earn $8,000 you owe $800.  Simple.  If you earn $83,600 you owe $15,668.  If you earn $450,000 you owe $131,435.  If you earn $2,500,000 you owe $848,935.  See the pattern?  Earn more.  Pay more.  Almost as if you’re penalized for being successful.

Of course, low-income people often don’t pay any federal income taxes.  In fact, a lot of people don’t.  About half.  Thanks to tax credits, deductions and exemptions.  But when you’re a rich CEO earning a multimillion dollar salary there aren’t enough tax credits, deductions and exemptions to avoid your taxes.  That’s why the top 1% of earners pay close to 40% of all federal income taxes.  Something we should thank them for.  Instead of demonizing them.

The higher the Top Marginal Tax Rate is the more the Rich avoid paying Income Taxes

There are no Mom and Pop hardware stores anymore.  The big box home improvement stores like The Home Depot, Lowe’s and, for those of you old enough to remember, Builder’s Square put them out of business.  Because of greedy consumers like you.  And me.  Who want to get the best value while shopping.  And if we can buy something of equal quality at a lower price we do.  We work hard for our money.  We spend it carefully.  Wisely.  And we don’t pay more for something when we can get the same for less elsewhere.

It’s the same for rich people.  When they shop.  And when they invest their wealth.  Or their ability.  They look at their options.  Create a new business?  Work at an established business?  If you’re highly skilled you can earn a lot of income.  Which rich people take into consideration.  But there are costs.  Payroll taxes.  Employee compensation and benefits.  Compliance and regulation costs.  And, of course, the progressive tax system.

The higher the top marginal tax rate the less incentive they have to start or run a business.  The less incentive they have to create jobs.  And the more likely they won’t start or run a business.  Instead they’ll invest their money and pay the simpler and (so far) lower capital gains tax.  And this is what happens.  The higher the top marginal tax rate is the more the rich avoid paying income taxes, leaving the middle class to pick them up.  Just like you avoided that Mom and Pop hardware store on your way to The Home Dept.  And with an abundance of government debt available, the rich can invest and live on interest.  Sitting on the sidelines.  Watching the rest of us struggle to find a job.

You don’t need Employees to live on Interest Income

So, the progressive tax system is a way to make rich people pay more.  To transfer the tax burden to them.  And it does.  To a point.  But if you try to tax them too much they’ll just drop out of the economy.  And take their jobs with them.  Which is a double whammy.  We lose some of that generous 40% of income taxes they pay.  And we lose who knows how many thousands of jobs.  And taxpayers.  Thus transferring the burden the other way.  Away from the rich.  To those less able to afford it.

The progressive tax system is supposed to make paying taxes easier on the poor.  The less you earn the less you pay, leaving you with more money for the necessities of life.  Whereas the rich can afford to pay more so they do.  But a flat tax is a progressive tax, too.  The more you earn the more you pay.  For example, going to a 15% flat tax, our sample earners above would change their taxes owed as follows:

  • $8000:  $800  →  $1,200
  • $83,600:  $15,668  →  $12,540
  • $450,000:  $131,435  →  $67,500
  • $2,500,000:  $848,935  →  $375,000

It’s still progressive.  And, yes, the rich will pay less individually.  But there will be more of them.  For this lower income tax rate changes the dynamic.  It will be more profitable to get off of the sidelines and get back into the economy.  Because a flat 15% income tax rate will beat or equal the capital gains tax.  And the profit from creating or running a business will blow away the earnings on a portfolio of treasury bonds.

Better still are the jobs.  You don’t need employees to live on interest income.  But you need them to run a business.  More jobs mean more taxpayers.  So more rich people are back in the economy earning income and paying income taxes.  And more employees are working.  That’s more payroll taxes.  And more personal income taxes.  In the end, the numbers win.  More jobs.  More GDP.  And more federal tax receipts.

Keeping People Poorer and more Dependent on Government

If the goal of government tax policy is to raise tax revenue, the logical thing to do would be to design a tax code that creates more rich people.  A lower top marginal tax rate does this.  So does a flat tax.  Such a tax policy will create incentives to earn income instead of living on capital gains from investments.  Each rich person will pay less income tax individually but there will be far more of them paying income taxes overall.  And they will create jobs.  The more jobs there are the more payroll taxes and personal income taxes there are.

History has shown that cutting tax rates has done just that.  The Mellon tax cuts of the 1920s.  The JFK tax cuts of the 1960s.  The Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s.  The Bush tax cuts of the 2000s.  So if the record shows that lower tax rates produce more tax revenue, why are we always trying to raise the top marginal tax rates?  Simple.  Politics.

Being in politics is the closest you can get to being part of an aristocracy in the United States.  Unless you’re born a Kennedy.  Whether its ego or the graft, people aspire to be in the privileged few.  Life is better there.  If you have no talent or ability.  Other than being able to tell a pretty good lie.  So you use class warfare to get the masses to support you.  And the progressive tax system.  Which keeps people poorer and more dependent on government.  Like it used to be in the old days when there was an aristocracy.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #67: “Free health care is very expensive.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 24th, 2011

No Such thing as a Free Lunch

Things cost.  In more ways than one.  A free lunch, for example, isn’t free.  If a client takes out a customer for lunch they’re hoping to get something in return.  A new contract.  A new sale.  Continued good will for a future contract or sale.  Even with the quintessential honest business person.  Who can’t be bought.  But can always be persuaded in the event of a tie.  Where all things being equal, the tie will likely go to the relationship that fosters the greater good will.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s one of the intangibles to consider.  And sometimes the intangibles can outweigh the tangibles.  Especially if there are tricky milestones to meet.  And a fastidious customer to please.

Then there’s the lunch itself.  It isn’t free.  Someone has to pay for it.  Because a restaurant is not just going to give their lunches away for free.  Because it costs them to make a lunch.  They have food to buy.  And people to pay.  From food prep to cooks to wait staff.  And food suppliers don’t give their food supplies away for free.  Because they have their own bills to pay.  And people don’t work for free.  Because they, too, have their own bills to pay.

Even though you’re not picking up your own tab, you are still paying for it.  Buying lunches is an entertainment expense.  Part of the larger marketing and sales budget.  Which is part of the larger overhead account.  Here’s how it works.  You have sales revenue.  And cost of sales (i.e., direct costs to make those sales).  You subtract cost of sales from Revenue and you have gross profit.  You subtract overhead from gross profit to get net profit.  Which is greater than zero in a healthy business.  To do this you need to make sure your sales prices include the costs of all of these free lunches.  In other words, sales prices include a markup to cover the costs of the free lunches.  So you end up paying for your free lunch.  Even though someone else is picking up the tab at the restaurant.

The Remarkable Mechanism of the Free Market

For those of you who enjoy the occasional free lunch, do you notice how often you get one?  It’s usually occasionally, right?  Maybe a free lunch once a month or so.  Maybe a nice spread at the holidays.  You may even get a nice Christmas gift.  Say a nice bottle of scotch.  Or a gift certificate where you can buy something nice.  The free lunches and gifts are nice.  And you probably wish you could get these freebies on a more regular basis.  Because free is nice.  But, of course, they’re not free.  You in fact pay for every last one.  Or your boss.  Because it adds to the cost of whatever your company buys.  And the more free stuff you get, the higher the prices your company pays.  To cover the costs of the free stuff.  But if the markups get too high, your company will have to stop buying that stuff.  And find someone else to buy from at more reasonable prices.

Some of you may not care what your boss pays for this stuff.  You figure he or she is rich.  He or she can afford it.  But he or she is not as rich as you think.  Because running a business is not as easy as it seems.  You see, wherever you work, they sell stuff, too.  And they compete with other people selling similar stuff.  This competition keeps sales prices down.  So to be profitable, you have to keep your own costs down.  And if you buy things at highly inflated prices that include a lot of free lunches and gifts, your costs will be greater than your revenue.  Your company will lose money.  And look for ways to cut costs.  Like laying a person or two off.  And if you’re one of those people, then you’ll start caring about what your boss pays for this stuff.

This is the remarkable mechanism of the free market.  Competition keeps sales prices down.  And costs down.  Because someone’s sales are someone else’s costs.  That’s why people simply can’t charge what they want.  There’s a limit to the amount of markup you can place on any sale.  And a limit to the amount of free lunches and gifts that can be buried in sales prices.

Health Care Insurance became Expensive after it became a Benefit

Now let’s look at health care.  The ultimate free lunch.  Before World War II we used to pay for our own health care.  But when the government implemented price controls on wages, employers couldn’t entice the best and brightest anymore with higher wages.  So they came up with a new idea.  Benefits.  Can’t pay you more money?  Not a problem.  We’ll pay for your health care instead.  Let’s you keep more of your money.  So it’s just like getting a raise.  It started with GM.  And spread to the other automotive companies.  Soon, everyone was providing health care insurance as a benefit. 

Eventually, health care insurance began to pay for everything.  You went to the doctor’s office and paid only a small co-pay out of pocket.  Everything else was free.  Someone else paid.  Just like getting a free lunch.  Only problem was that these free lunches added up.  And there was no free market mechanism to keep prices down.  Someone else paid.  Who wasn’t even at the lunch.  They weren’t there to say, “Hey, I can’t turn in an expense report with a $200 bar tab on it.  It’ll come out of my pocket.  Then my boss will fire me.  Have a Coke instead.  They give free refills.”  Nothing like this happens in health care.  So the costs of health care went up.  And the sales price for health insurance sky rocketed.  It was breaking the back of businesses.  It was becoming the largest single expenditure they had.  And it kept going up.  And never came down.  Soon, employees started paying a portion of these costs through a payroll deduction.  And that deduction kept going up.  As did co-pays.  But these were just a drop in the bucket compared to what the employer was paying.  It got so bad that they had to choose between staying in business.  Going to a cheaper and less comprehensive health care plan.  Or dropping insurance altogether.

Worse, as these employee deductions went up, young, healthy people cancelled their health insurance.  This left only heavy uses of health care with health care insurance.  Older and less healthy people.  And families.  The young and healthy didn’t go to the doctor.  So most of their premiums helped to pay for those who did.  When they started to leave the system the insurance rates on those remaining went up to pick up their lost contribution.  Soon, health insurance wasn’t health insurance anymore.  A fortune was paid in premiums.  And a fortune was spent on health care costs.  It just took money from those not sick today to pay those who were sick today.  It’s now little more than a transfer payment.  And has more in common with Medicare than insurance.

Some of the most Expensive Free Health Care in the World

Medicare has the same problem.  Only worse.  Because it’s a program for the elderly.  Who are big consumers of health care services.  Who are also retired.  And living longer thanks to the good health care they’re getting.  Of course, Medicare isn’t insurance.  The government reimburses health care provides with money collected through payroll taxes.  When they set up Medicare, there was still an expanding birth rate.  So taxpayers then outnumbered retirees on Medicare.  But that changed soon.  The birth rate declined radically.  We went from having big families to having small families.  So retirees on Medicare now outnumber current taxpayers.  So fewer taxpayers must pay more in taxes.  Which is an even bigger problem than the private health insurers are facing.

This means that the free health care we get is some of the most expensive free health care in the world.  And it’s like this because the consumer of the health care isn’t paying the bill.  When a private insurer or the government pays, there is no free market mechanism keeping costs down.  Like in private business.  Who know the full cost of a free lunch.  And they don’t give so many away that they have to raise their prices so much that it makes their goods and/or services unaffordable.

There is no lunch crisis (free or otherwise).  But there is a health care cost crisis.  And the big difference between the two is the free market mechanism.  Health care needs more of it.  For it is the most effective thing in keeping costs down.  It would be so effective that it may even make health care insurance what it once was.  Insurance.  Where a lot of people pay a little bit in to protect their financial assets.  To pay for the few with an unexpected catastrophic expense.

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Partnering with the Grim Reaper: Saving Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2010

Taxing the Young to Save Medicare for the Old

Medicare and Social Security make up the lion’s share of the federal budget.  The government is setting records for both deficits and debt.  And everyone is projecting both of these programs to go bankrupt.  A dim picture for anyone hoping to rely on either for their retirement.  And they’re worried (see AP-GfK Poll: Baby boomers fear outliving Medicare by Jennifer Agiesta and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar posted 12/29/2010 on the Associated Press).

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that baby boomers believe by a ratio of 2-to-1 they won’t be able to rely on the giant health insurance plan throughout their retirement.

The boomers took a running dive into adolescence and went on to redefine work and family, but getting old is making them nervous.

Now, forty-three percent say they don’t expect to be able to depend on Medicare forever, while only 20 percent think their Medicare is secure. The rest have mixed feelings.

The problem with both Medicare and Social Security is that they are both Ponzi schemes.  Scams by the government to make generations dependent on government.  And to funnel a lot of cash to Washington.  But the Baby Boomers mucked up the works.  Their free love in the 60s and use of birth control and abortion left their family tree a barren one.  The boomer generation of families with maybe 2-3 kids will support in retirement their parent’s generation of families with 10+kids.  There’ll be more people entering retirement than entering the workforce to pay for those retirees.

Here’s the math: when the last of the boomers reaches age 65 in about two decades, Medicare will be covering more than 80 million people. At the same time, the ratio of workers paying taxes to support the program will have plunged from 3.5 for each person receiving benefits currently, to 2.3.

And the numbers are worse.  Because Social Security will be covering those same people.  We’re approaching one working person supporting one person in retirement (Medicare and Social Security benefits combined).  Even Bernie Madoff’s great Ponzi scheme had a better ratio when his pyramid imploded.  It just isn’t sustainable anymore.  Something’s gotta give.  And by something I mean benefits paid out to people.

The government can’t balance its books without dealing with health care costs, and Medicare is in the middle. Some leading Republicans and a few Democrats have called for phasing out the program and instead giving each retiree a fixed payment — or voucher —to help them buy private medical insurance of their choice. The poll found doubts about the idea, and a generational debate.

Overall, a narrow majority (51 percent) of Americans opposed the voucher plan. But those born after 1980 favored it by 47 percent to 41 percent, while seniors opposed it 4-to-1. A majority of boomers were also opposed, with 43 percent strongly objecting.

And here’s the problem.  Those who don’t pay payroll taxes anymore (retirees) are all for raising taxes to pay for their current level of benefits.  No matter how much it bankrupts future generations.  And these people vote.  More than anyone else.  So for good reason they call Social Security the third rail of politics.  You touch it at your own peril.  Those with a lifetime of paying taxes ahead of them, on the other hand, would rather raise a family than support an individual in retirement.  Not only do they want to touch the third rail, they want to short it out.  But they don’t have the numbers.  Yet.

States to Make Steep Cuts in Medicaid to Stave off Bankruptcy

And we even haven’t talked about Medicaid yet.  This program is bankrupting the states.  It’s their biggest budget item.  And they can’t sustain it any longer (see Medicaid Pushes U.S. States Off ‘Cliff’ as Governors Seek Cuts by Christopher Palmeri and Pat Wechsler posted 12/22/2010 on Bloomberg).

Governors nationwide are taking a scalpel to Medicaid, the jointly run state and federal health-care program for 48 million poor Americans, half of whom are children. The single biggest expense for states, Medicaid consumes about 22 percent of their total $1.6 trillion in expenditures, more than what is allocated to elementary and secondary education, according to a National Governors Association report.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  You know that states aren’t going to cut education.  The unions won’t let them.  So they have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  And cut Medicaid.

Governors are slashing Medicaid to close as much as $140 billion in budget deficits for the 12 months starting in July 2012, after eliminating $130 billion in gaps this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group. Spending is being cut even though state revenues rose for the three quarters ended Sept. 30, as the U.S. recovered from the longest recession since the Great Depression, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, New York, said in a Nov. 30 report.

“I don’t think most states want to sentence people to death,” said Judy Solomon, co-director of health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy. “But what we see is a pretty bleak picture of tough cuts made this year, and next year’s numbers look worse.”

The sad truth is that sick people are costly.  Dead people aren’t.  So you can see where this is going.  Rationing.

Spending on Medicaid nationwide rose 8.8 percent last year, the most since 2002, according to Kaiser. Nearly every state issued at least one new policy to cut program costs in the past two years, including benefit reductions, increased copays and lower reimbursements to health-care providers.

Cost cutting and reductions in benefits.  Rationing.  And you know where that will lead to.  More dead people.  Which is the only thing that will save Medicaid.  That, or federal contributions.

Every state has a unique formula for calculating the federal contribution for Medicaid. The 12 with the highest personal income, including California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Colorado, typically depend on the U.S. government for about half their expenditures.

Lucky for the states that the federal government has money to spare.  Wait a tic, they don’t.  They’re setting record deficits and debt.  They don’t have the money.  Especially now that they’ve thrown Obamacare into the mix.  And the cost for this behemoth will dwarf Medicare and Medicaid.

States face the prospect of enrolling 16 million more people in Medicaid beginning in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health-care law Obama signed in March. It expands coverage to include certain childless adults under 65, according to Foley & Lardner LLP, a law firm in Milwaukee. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the increased expense for the first three years.

Well, perhaps not.  They’ll be sticking the states with some of those costs.  Poor states.  These unfunded federal mandates are killing them.  But they won’t be the only ones dying.  In three years time, when those federal subsidies expire, some of the current Medicaid patients may lose their heath care benefits.  And die.

Death Panels to Decide Life and Death

The problem with healthcare is that the raison d’être of healthcare is the very thing bankrupting it.  Providing healthcare to sick and dying people.  If the sick and dying would just hurry up and die these healthcare programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare) would be just fine.  If only there was some mechanism to encourage people to take a pill to manage pain instead of consuming expensive healthcare services.  I mean, they are only delaying the inevitable.  They should just suck it up.  And do the right thing.  After receiving something like, oh, I don’t know, let’s call it end of life counseling (see WSJ Opinion Death Panels Revisited posted 12/29/2010 on The Wall Street Journal).

On Sunday, Robert Pear reported in the New York Times that Medicare will now pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling as part of seniors’ annual physicals. A similar provision was originally included in ObamaCare, but Democrats stripped it out amid the death panel furor. Now Medicare will enact the same policy through regulation.

We hadn’t heard about this development until Mr. Pear’s story, but evidently Medicare tried to prevent the change from becoming public knowledge. The provision is buried in thousands of Federal Register pages setting Medicare’s hospital and physician price controls for 2011 and concludes that such consultations count as a form of preventative care.

No wonder they hid it.  Encouraging people to hurry up and die.  That’s something that doesn’t win you points at the PTA.  The law as written isn’t all that bad, though.  The panels are voluntary.  So far.  But everything Big Government has done started small.  They are, after all, the master of incrementalism.  And with out of control healthcare spending bankrupting Medicare and Medicaid, what do you think these panels will evolve into?

The regulatory process isn’t supposed to be a black-ops exercise, but expect many more such nontransparent improvisations under the vast powers ObamaCare handed the executive branch. In July, the White House bypassed the Senate to recess appoint Dr. Berwick, who has since testified before Congress for all of two hours, and now he promulgates by fiat a reimbursement policy that Congress explicitly rejected, all while scheming with his political patrons to duck any public scrutiny.

If there was nothing to hide they wouldn’t have hidden this provision so deep in the federal register.  But when you hide things, there are reasons you hide them.  So much for transparency.  And the most ethical Congress ever (of course an ethical Congress is a moot point when the executive rules by fiat).

Under highly centralized national health care, the government inevitably makes cost-minded judgments about what types of care are “best” for society at large, and the standardized treatments it prescribes inevitably steal life-saving options from individual patients. This is precisely why many liberals like former White House budget director Peter Orszag support government-run health care to control costs: Technocrats in government can then decide who gets Avastin for cancer, say, and who doesn’t.

When a government bureaucrat decides who gets life-saving medication and who doesn’t, that sounds like a death panel to me.  Because that decision has the power of life and death.  They can be as nontransparent as they want but the truth is pretty clear.  To control the out of control spending of Medicare and Medicaid (and, in time, Obamacare), they will be partnering with the Grim Reaper.  Because dead people don’t consume health care benefits.  And that is their biggest problem.  Consumers of benefits.

The Swedish National Health Care System Rations Care

So what about the social utopias of European Socialism?  Those advanced nations that have national healthcare?  Are they having these problems?  Of course they are.  In fact, their future is ours.  Here’s a small sampling of what to expect (see Man’s penis amputated following misdiagnosis posted 12/29/2010 in Science and Technology on The Local).

A Swedish man was forced to have his penis amputated after waiting more than a year to learn he had cancer.

The man, who is in his sixties, first visited a local clinic in Blekinge in southern Sweden in September 2009 for treatment of a urinary tract infection, the local Blekinge Läns Tidning (BLT) reported.

When he returned in March 2010 complaining of foreskin irritation, the doctor on duty at the time diagnosed the problem as a simple case of inflammation.

After three weeks passed without the prescribed treatment alleviating the man’s condition, he was instructed to seek further treatment at Blekinge Hospital.

But it took five months before he was able to schedule an appointment at the hospital.

When he finally met with doctors at the hospital, the man was informed he had cancer and his penis would have to be removed.

It remains unclear if the man would have been able to keep his penis had the cancer been detected sooner.

The matter has now been reported to the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) under Sweden’s Lex Maria laws, the informal name used to refer to regulations governing the reporting of injuries or incidents in the Swedish health care system.

Misdiagnosis.  And long waits.  National healthcare.  Where government bureaucrats cut costs and make doctors work long hours.  Not a very attractive offer for all those years of medical school.  So there’s a doctor shortage.  And, consequently, long waits.  In this case, 6 months to be advised he needed to go someplace else.  Then another 5 to get an appointment someplace else.  In the mean time the cancer spread.  This is what happens when you ration health care.

Is this the future you want?  It’s not the future I want.

The Third Rail of Politics is a Generational Thing

It’s a generational battle.  The young want to cut taxes (and benefits).  Because they’re paying those taxes.  And not consuming the benefits.  The old want to raise taxes and maintain benefits.  Because they’re not paying those taxes.  But are consuming the benefits.  Right now there are more old than young.  So you can guess who will win this struggle.  Bankrupting the future will help the politicians stay in office today.  So the old will win.

But there is a little irony in all of this.  To save these programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare), they need old people to die.  But once they do, the politicians will lose their political support.  The younger generation (whose future the politicians mortgaged) will then broom them out of office.  And they will be all too glad to short out that third rail once and for all.

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