Alberta Health Services privatizes some Pensions to Cut Health Care Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 14th, 2013

Week in Review

Public sector pensions are pushing cities and states to bankruptcy.  The Detroit bankruptcy was due in large part to the staggering debt the city took on to meet current pension obligations (and health care cost for retirees).  While the pension fund remained woefully underfunded.  The Detroit bankruptcy may set a precedent for other debt-laden cities.  Who are drowning under the costs of their bloated public sectors.  As they’ve run out of room to raise taxes any further.  Which wasn’t a problem during the initial surge of public sector growth.  But now that those retirement rolls have grown so large cities and states have found those generous pensions to be just unsustainable.  Even in Canada (see Alberta Health Services privatizing Edmonton labs posted 12/11/2013 on CBC News).

Alberta Health Services is going ahead with its plan to privatize all of its diagnostic lab services in Edmonton…

The new lab will replace hospital labs operated by AHS and Covenant Health as well as the services provided by DynaLIFE…

No jobs will be lost and all staff positions will be protected by the new employer, AHS says.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta represents about 75% of the 2,000 workers affected by the changeover.

Even though AHS claims wages won’t change, the union believes pensions will take a hit.

“This is going to a private provider,” said HSAA president Elisabeth Ballermann.

“The private provider by definition cannot participate in the pension plan that our public sector members are currently part of and that’s an enormous loss for those workers.”

A loss perhaps for 2000 workers.  But a win for the health care system in Alberta and the people who use it.  As the cost savings from privatizing these pension obligations will free up money to spend on health care.  Something to think about as Obamacare continues to rollout and destroy the private health insurance industry on its way to establishing national health care.  Nationalizing one-sixth of the U.S. economy.  Creating a windfall of new public sector workers to vote Democrat.  And unsustainable pension costs that will increase the cost of health care.  Which will lead to longer wait times and rationing.  As well as adding to the deficit and debt.  Which will, in time, lead to the same cost-cutting actions like Alberta is taking.  Or something a little more painful like they did in Detroit.


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Roosevelt, Wage and Price Controls, Fringe Benefits, Health Insurance, Pensions, Unions, Bankruptcy and Bethlehem Steel

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 3rd, 2013

History 101

(Originally published November 20th, 2012)

The Roosevelt Administration fought Inflation by Passing a Law to Cap Employee Wages

Most times when those in government try to fix things they end up making things worse.  Giving us the unintended consequences of their best intentions.  And the government had some good intentions during World War II.  They were printing money to pay for a surge in government spending to pay for war production.  As well as a host of New Deal programs.  Which sparked off some inflation.  Inflation is bad.  Enter their best intentions.

One of the biggest drivers of inflation is wages.  Higher wages increase a company’s costs.  Which they must recover in their selling prices.  So higher wages lead to higher prices.  Higher prices increase the cost of living.  Making it more difficult for workers to get by without a pay raise.  Which puts pressure on employers to raise wages.  If they do they pass on these higher costs to their customers via higher prices.  It’s a vicious cycle.  And one all governments want to avoid.  Because higher costs reduce economic activity.  And that’s how governments get their money.  Taxing economic activity.

Enter wage and price controls.  The Roosevelt administration thought the way to solve the problem of inflation was simply passing a law to cap employee wages.  To halt the vicious cycle of escalating prices and wages.  Something employers didn’t like.  For that’s how they got the best people to work for them.  By offering them higher wages.  With that no longer an option what did these employers do to get the best people to work for them?  They started offering fringe benefits.  Which became a killer of business.

As People lived longer in Retirement Retiree Pension and Health Care Expenses Soared

Employers began offering health insurance and pensions as fringe benefits for the first time.  To get around the wage and price controls of the Roosevelt administration.  Which they had to pass on to their customers via higher prices.  So the wage and price controls failed to do what they were supposed to do.  Keep a company’s costs down.  Worse, these benefits made promises many of these businesses just couldn’t keep.

Roosevelt also empowered unions.   Who would negotiate ever more generous contracts.  By demanding generous pay and benefits for current workers.  And pensions and health care for retired workers.  But it didn’t end there.  The unions also expanded their membership as much as possible.  So in those contracts they also got very costly workplace rules.  If a lamp burnt out at a workstation the worker had to call an electrician to replace the lamp.  They could not screw in a new lamp themselves.  The unions defined every work activity in a workplace and created a job classification for it.  And only a worker in that job classification could do that work.  Which swelled the labor rolls at unionized plants.  Who all were receiving generous pay and benefits.  As were a growing number of retired workers.  Greatly increasing labor costs.

For awhile businesses could absorb these costs.  Business was growing.  As was the population.  There were more younger workers entering the factories than there were older workers retiring from them.  But things started changing in the Sixties.  The population growth rate flattened out thanks to birth control and abortion.  So as the population grew slower the domestic demand for manufactured goods fell.  While in the Seventies foreign competition increased.  So you had falling demand and a rising supply.  Making it harder to pass on those high labor costs anymore.  Which proved to be a great problem as their market share fell.  For as they laid off employees fewer and fewer workers were paying the pensions and health care costs for an ever growing number of retirees.  Pensions were chronically underfunded.  Worse, people began to live longer in retirement thanks to advances in medicine.  Increasing retiree pension and health care expenses for these businesses.  Bleeding some of them dry.

Bethlehem Steel filed Bankruptcy when they had 11,500 Active Workers and 120,000 Retirees and Dependents

Bethlehem Steel helped build America.  And win World War II.  It made the steel for the Golden Gate Bridge.  And the bridges between New York and New Jersey.  Many of the skyscrapers you see on Manhattan are made with Bethlehem steel.  Little Steel.  Second only to Big Steel.  U.S. Steel.  Big Steel and Little Steel dominated the US steel industry.  Until, that is, foreign competition entered their market.  And the steel minimills arrived on the scene.  Neither of which had unionized workforces.  Or those legacy costs (retiree pension and health care expenses).  Which spelled the doom of the sprawling Bethlehem Steel.  From 1954 to 2003 hot-rolled steel sheet prices rose 220%.  While wages soared over 900%.  And it got worse.

Employment peaked in 1957 at 167,000 workers.  By the mid Eighties that fell to 35,000.  With some 70,000 retirees and dependents.  That is, Bethlehem’s retiree costs were about twice their active labor costs.  As business continued to fall employment fell to 11,500.  While their retirees and dependents rose to 120,000.  Just over 10 retirees for each active worker.  Unfunded pension obligations soared to $4.3 billion.  Just impossible numbers to recover from.  Which is why Bethlehem Steel is no longer with us today.  The company was dissolved in 2001.  With International Steel Group (ISG) buying some of their remaining assets.  Then, in 2005, a foreign steel company, Mittal Steel, merged with ISG.  Leaving no remnants of Bethlehem Steel in American hands.

ISG got the steelworkers union to reduce the number of job classifications in the Bethlehem plants they took over from 32 to 5.  Greatly shrinking the labor rolls.  And increasing efficiency.  Helping these remaining assets to move forward.  The pension fund was taken over.  With retirees losing only about $700 million, giving retirees a pension of up to $44,386.  But retirees lost their health care.  Some $3.1 billion in spending obligations that the company couldn’t pay.  And didn’t.  A sad ending for an American great.  A failure the Roosevelt administration was responsible for.  As their good intentions resulted in unintended consequences.  Setting businesses up to fail with costly fringe benefits.  Adding yet another demand to the union’s list of demands.  Spending obligations these businesses couldn’t pay once domestic demand fell while steel supplies rose.  Leading to the inevitable.  Bankruptcy of large unionized companies.


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Detroit may mark the Beginning of the End of Generational Theft by Public Sector Unions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 4th, 2013

Week in Review

So who’s to blame for Detroit?  The greedy.  The greed of the public sector.  Who stole as much as they thought possible from future generations.  Laughing all the way to the bank.  But never did they think that their greed would eclipse the paying-ability of those they were stealing from.  Future taxpayers.  Which is what happened in Detroit.  And will probably happen elsewhere throughout the nation (see The Unsteady States of America posted 7/27/2013 on the Economist).

Nearly half of Detroit’s liabilities stem from promises of pensions and health care to its workers when they retire. American states and cities typically offer their employees defined-benefit pensions based on years of service and final salary. These are supposed to be covered by funds set aside for the purpose. By the states’ own estimates, their pension pots are only 73% funded. That is bad enough, but nearly all states apply an optimistic discount rate to their obligations, making the liabilities seem smaller than they are. If a more sober one is applied, the true ratio is a terrifying 48% (see article). And many states are much worse. The hole in Illinois’s pension pot is equivalent to 241% of its annual tax revenues: for Connecticut, the figure is 190%; for Kentucky, 141%; for New Jersey, 137%.

By one recent estimate, the total pension gap for the states is $2.7 trillion, or 17% of GDP. That understates the mess, because it omits both the unfunded pension figure for cities and the health-care promises made to retired government workers of all sorts. In Detroit’s case, the bill for their medical benefits ($5.7 billion) was even larger than its pension hole ($3.5 billion).

Some of this is the unfortunate side-effect of a happy trend: Americans are living longer, even in Detroit, so promises to pensioners are costlier to keep. But the problem is also political. Governors and mayors have long offered fat pensions to public servants, thus buying votes today and sending the bill to future taxpayers. They have also allowed some startling abuses. Some bureaucrats are promoted just before retirement or allowed to rack up lots of overtime, raising their final-salary pension for the rest of their lives. Or their unions win annual cost-of-living adjustments far above inflation. A watchdog in Rhode Island calculated that a retired local fire chief would be pulling in $800,000 a year if he lived to 100, for example. More than 20,000 retired public servants in California receive pensions of over $100,000.

This is an important point.  People say that we must honor these lavish pension and retiree health care benefits because they made a deal.  A contract with the city.  Or the state.  But did they?  No.  The public sector unions and the cities and states colluded together to steal money from future generations.  Who were not a party to those agreements.  This amounts to generational theft.  And the generous size of those benefits just makes that theft worse.  Transforming the public sector into an aristocracy.  That cares little for the future taxpayers that they will be bled dry to pay for their long and comfortable retirements.

Detroit is just the first domino to fall.  This generational theft is just unsustainable.  Something has to be done.  But what?

Public employees should retire later. States should accelerate the shift to defined-contribution pension schemes, where what you get out depends on what you put in. (These are the norm in the private sector.) Benefits already accrued should be honoured, but future accruals should be curtailed, where legally possible. The earlier you grapple with the problem, the easier it will be to fix. Nebraska, which stopped offering final-salary pensions to new hires in 1967, is sitting pretty.

In other words our public servants should not live a better life than their masters.  Those people paying the bill.  There should be no aristocracy in the United States.  People in the public sector shouldn’t be able to retire young and live a long life in retirement while someone else is paying the bill.  The taxpayer.  People who have to work until they drop dead to save for their own retirement.  That just isn’t right.  If our servants in the public sector want that long and comfortable retirement then they must do what people in the private sector do.  Save for it.  Make sacrifices.  And live more frugally.  Because there shouldn’t be two Americas.  Where one enslaves the other.  While setting up a string of municipal and state bankruptcies because of their greed that threatens the financial wellbeing of the nation.


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Greedy Public Sector Unions in San Francisco demand Taxpayers pay them More

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 7th, 2013

Week in Review

FDR was pro-union.  He was all for tearing businesses a new one when it came to collective bargaining.  For he didn’t like those royalists.  Greedy businessmen who put their profits ahead of their employees.  While making them work in horrible conditions.  For long hours.  For little pay.  The greedy little profit whores they were.  But FDR drew a line when it came to government workers.  Because taxpayers pay government workers.  And it just didn’t look right for government unions to call the taxpayers greedy little profit whores.  So FDR opposed unionizing government workers.  Because you just can’t have government workers tear the taxpayers a new one to enrich themselves at the taxpayers’ expense.  Something was just wrong with that.  But that was then.  This is now (see San Francisco Bart rail strike ends as contract extended posted 7/5/2013 on BBC News US and Canada).

San Francisco Bay’s transit rail service has resumed after two labour unions called off a strike.

The four-day walkout came to an end after both sides in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) dispute agreed to a one-month extension of the current contract while bargaining continues…

Talks between the two sides had resumed as early as Tuesday, but key sticking points include salaries, as well as employee costs for pensions and healthcare…

Bart has said workers from the two unions earn on average $71,000 (£47,500) in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually…

The president of one of the striking unions, the Amalgamated Transit Union, struck a defiant tone.

“We’re not going to let them hijack us and the riding public,” Antonette Bryant said, as she apologised to commuters for the disruption.

So these union workers make $88,000 between base salary and overtime.  Being that train schedules are pretty fixed so must that overtime.  That’s well above the median household income of about $50,000.  Yet on top of that $88,000 they get pension and health care benefits.  And some pretty nice ones at that.  Which is why everyone wants to get into these unions.  While most Americans have to put something aside for their retirement from that median household income.  As well as pay a percentage of their health insurance premium.  Unlike public sector unions.  Who just have to go on strike to get the city to increase taxes on the taxpayers.  So the city can afford to pay those generous pay and benefit packages.

Hijack the riding public?  By opposing these union demands management is trying to prevent the unions from hijacking the riding public.  For when you add in the pension and health care benefits they’re already making about twice what the riding public is earning.  Making it difficult to call the taxpayers the greedy little profit whores here.  Yet they are because they won’t consent to pay more.  Which they can do by only having less in their personal lives.  Which certainly isn’t fair.  Especially considering that a lot of these people don’t even ride the damn trains.


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Public Sector Costs are Bankrupting Detroit and Illinois

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2013

Week in Review

Public sector pay and benefits are crushing state governments and cities.  The City of Detroit is probably going to file bankruptcy.  And the State of Illinois just saw its bond rating cut (see Illinois Bond Grade Cut as Lawmakers Can’t Fix Pensions by Tim Jones & Brian Chappatta posted 6/3/2013 on Bloomberg).

Illinois had its credit rating cut one level after lawmakers failed to restructure state pensions saddled with almost $100 billion in unfunded liabilities…

The retirement systems cover state workers, teachers, university employees, judges and lawmakers…

“It is disgraceful that this year’s legislative session ended without a new pension plan,” Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a 58-year-old Republican who is running for governor in 2014, said in a statement. The failure “costs the state millions of dollars each day, plus these downgrades could continue to make borrowing additional funds even more expensive…”

Illinois’s growing pension deficit is “unsustainable,” Fitch analysts led by Karen Krop, a senior director in New York, said in a statement. The inaction by lawmakers raises questions about the state’s ability to deal with “numerous fiscal challenges.” They also cited a growing backlog of unpaid bills and borrowing to cover operational costs, indicating another cut may be forthcoming.

These public sector workers have pay and benefit packages unlike those in the private sector.  Which has to pay for the pay and benefits of both the private and public sectors.  So they keep raising taxes on individuals and businesses.  And our politicians never worry about the long-term consequences.  But they can only tax so much.  People can only pay so much in taxes before they can no longer pay their own bills.  So they start borrowing.  And the more they borrow the more risky they are to loan money to.  The more in debt they go and the greater their spending obligations the higher the interest rates they have to pay to get investors to take a chance on buying their bonds.  Because there’s a very good chance something like this will happen (see Detroit to offer creditors less than 10 percent of what city owes -report by Steve Neavling posted 6/7/2013 on Reuters).

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to deliver grim news to the city’s creditors next week: Take less than 10 percent of what the city owes or risk losing it all in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Detroit Free Press reported on Friday…

In his report, Orr stated that the city has run annual deficits of $100 million and more since 2008. Detroit is believed to owe about $17 billion in debts and liabilities.

So on the one hand they beg and plead for investors to loan them money.  So they can pay the overwhelming costs of their public sector in the face of a shrinking tax base.  And then when their finances get so bad that they can’t even service their debt any more they say, “Thank you for your money when we could not raise any ourselves.  And because you took that great risk for us we will reward you by screwing you out of 90 cents of every dollar you loaned us.  But stick around after the bankruptcy.  For once we shed this debt we will need to borrow more to pay for the overwhelming costs of our public sector.”

Detroit had annual deficits of $100 million.  Illinois has $100 billion in unfunded liabilities.  Is it any wonder Fitch lowered their bond rating?  For the state of Illinois has a greater financial problem than the City of Detroit has.  The State of Michigan gave Detroit an emergency manager to fix their problems.  They even offered to buy a city park.  Belle Isle.  To help Detroit get out of the mess they put themselves into.  But Illinois cannot help Illinois.  Only the federal government can.  But will they?  If they do you know California will demand a bailout, too.  As will every other state and city with a crushing public sector cost will.  But the federal government can’t bail out everyone.  Not when they have their own trillion dollar deficit problem to fix.

No.  There is only one way to fix the problems these cities and states are having.  They have to cut their public sector costs.  Which means someone else besides the bondholders will have to take a haircut to put these states and cities back into the black.  Meaning the public sector can no longer enjoy the kind of benefits people in the private sector haven’t enjoyed in decades.


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The Public Sector and the Tax Base

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2013

Economics 101

All Government Bureaucracies Grow Bigger and Pay their People Very Well

Big cities throughout the United States are suffering financially.  They are drowning under the costs of their public sector employees.  For when the Great Recession hit tax revenues fell.  People lost jobs and paid less income taxes.  People out of work spent less in the local stores causing a fall in sales taxes.  People drove less and paid less gas taxes.  Home values plummeted, reducing property taxes.  Tax revenue fell at all levels of government.  Leaving the big cities unable to pay their bills.  With less help from the governments above them.  While their infrastructures crumbled.  And they struggled to furnish basic city services.

Governments don’t make anything.  They just have people doing things.  So there are little economies of scale.  Just a lot of people.  The public sector includes every worker in the city paid by tax revenue.  The mayor, city council, school teachers, police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors, boiler operators, electricians, janitors, building inspectors, meter readers, bus drivers, etc.   And all the civil servants and bureaucrats that push paper.  Requiring a huge payroll.  And lots of benefits.  In a large city with a population of 1.5 million those costs can look like this:

Public Sector Costs 1

All government bureaucracies have two things in common.  They always grow bigger.  And pay their people very well.  So the above table has three columns.  Showing the growth of the public sector.  (Assuming a constant population to simplify our math).  From 1% of the city population to 2% then to 3%.  So the number of city employees goes from 15,000 to 30,000 to 45,000.  By the time you add in pay, holiday pay, vacation pay, sick days and health insurance the active employee costs are huge.  Going from $1 billion to $2 billion to $3 billion.  Today it is not uncommon for a big city with a population of 1.5 million to have 45,000 public sector workers.  So we will build on that figure.  And add in retiree costs.

As City’s Population Declines so does its Tax Base

Another big perk of working in the public sector are the great pensions.  Something that has long since disappeared in the private sector.  While most of us have to put money away in a 401(k) public sector workers can count on a generous pension during a long retirement.  Perhaps getting as much as 80% of their base pay.  Plus they keep their health insurance.  Which is unlike the health insurance most of us get in the private sector.  For it covers everything.  With few co-pays.  And only the best name-brand pharmaceutical prescriptions.  This is why people want to work in the public sector.  And why they want to retire from the public sector.  Because no one else pays as well.

Public Sector Costs 2

Public sector workers retire long before their counterparts in the private sector.  Allowing them to live a long retirement.  And because they live so long into retirement the city ends up paying for almost as many retirees as they do active workers.  Putting great cost pressures on these cities as more of their workers retire.  Within as few as 2 decades the cost of retired workers can go from $648 million to $1.9 billion.   When we add this cost to the cost of their active workers we get the total cost of the public sector.

Public Sector Costs 3

As time passes and more people retire from the public sector we can see how the cost of the public sector (active and retired) rises from $3.7 billion to $4.4 billion to $5 billion.  Which, of course, the people living in the city have to pay.  The taxpayers.  They pay income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and a variety of other taxes and fees.  Who by the time the number of retirees reach 40,500 must pay $3,336 per year.  Or $278 per month.  Or $64.15 per week.  Or $9.16 each day.  Just to get a true feel of how much this is do the following exercise.  Each day take a $10 bill out of your wallet or purse and throw it away.  This will approximate the cost of the public sector you pay for.  Until the people start leaving the city.  And as the population declines so does the tax base.  Requiring each person to pay a larger share of the public sector cost.

To pay for an Expanding Government you need a Growing Population

If a city starts losing population it doesn’t reduce the need to pay the bloated public sector.  Both active and retired.  So the fewer people remaining in the city have to pay a larger share of the public sector cost.  Because the public sector union isn’t going to allow the city to lay off any workers.  So it’s up to the taxpayers.  But as the population shrinks it becomes more painful to do.

Public Sector Costs 4

By the time the population falls to 500,000 the amount of taxes a person must pay to support the public sector amounts to a house payment.  Or $192.46 per week.  Or $27.49 each day.  Can you imagine taking three $10 bills out of your wallet or purse every day just to throw them away?  Probably not.  Because no one would.  Cities just can’t keep increasing the tax burden on their people.  For there is a limit.  And when a city reaches it they start borrowing.  Which is how cities go into debt.  And flirt with bankruptcy.  Because of these bloated public sectors.  That grew when the cities grew.  But they didn’t shrink as their populations shrank.

We have ignored corporations in our exercise.  Which increase the tax base.  But we have also excluded additional costs.  Buildings, vehicles, equipment, housing assistance, food assistance, fuel for city vehicles, car insurance, property insurance, liability insurance, lawsuits, etc.  If we factor these things in the numbers will only look worse.  As the cost of the active and retired workers increases there’s less money to pay for the basic city services.  So they deteriorate.  Which when added to the higher taxes chase even more people out of the city.  Reducing the tax base further.  Leaving even less money for the basic city services.

When the population declines so does the city.  As the public sector workers consume a greater percentage of the shrinking tax base cities suffer increasing urban decay.  As there is little money for anything but the public sector workers and their benefits.  For when it comes to paying for government population is key.  You need a growing population to pay for expanding government.  To spread the costs of a bloated public sector over as many people as possible.  And you can’t do that with a declining population.  Which is why big cities flirt with bankruptcy during bad economic times.  For they can pay for their bloated public sectors only during the best of economic times.  And only during the best of economic times.


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Bad Liberal Democrat Policies chased the Industrial Base out of Detroit

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 2nd, 2013

Week in Review

A growing population is to government coffers what growing revenue is to business.  More money.  Governments at all levels collect their money by taxing the population.  The greater the population is the greater the amount of taxes they collect.  So a growing population increases the money coming into a government’s coffers.  While a shrinking population gives you a Detroit (see How to save a city by knocking down thousands of its buildings by Tim Fernholz posted 5/31/2013 on Yahoo! Finance).

The problem with Detroit, which could soon host the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history, is its shrinking population. With its industrial base decimated by automation and outsourcing, a city of 1 million people in 1990 dropped to 700,000 this year, with 200,000 people leaving the city since 2008. That reduced the taxe base to fund public services. Fewer public services coupled with lower population density weighed on crime, public health and the economy.

Yes, its industrial base was decimated by the loss of all those manufacturing jobs.  But the real question is why businesses left Detroit.  And there is only one reason why a business leaves one location for another one.  Because of a more business-friendly environment elsewhere.

Detroit became a liberal Democrat bastion.  Supported by high taxes.  Including a city income tax.  And costly regulations.  These are what chased businesses out of Detroit.  After decades of this nonsense the regulations for doing work in the city grew so great that business just went elsewhere.  Or cheated the regulations.

Money flowed into city coffers.  And the public sector grew.  Including generous pay and benefit packages for their public sector workers.  Paid for with wealth they transferred from the private sector to the public sector.  Until the private sector said enough is enough.  And left the city.  For a more business-friendly environment somewhere else.  Taking all of those jobs with them.  And with no jobs people left the city.  Looking for jobs.  But as the tax base shrunk the public sector remained bloated.  Which was a problem.  A big problem.  As more and more money went for those pay and benefit packages.  Including generous pensions and health care benefits.  And less to city services.  Causing urban decay.  In time this accelerated.  With fewer and fewer people paying the taxes to support the public sector.  And when they could no longer support the public sector the city started running deficits.  Pushing it towards the “largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history.”  All because of an unfriendly business environment.

So this is what decimated the city’s industrial base.  Anti-business liberal Democrat policies.  For if the city wasn’t so anti-business the industrial base would still be there going strong.  Attracting new businesses from other anti-business locations.  Instead of what they have in Detroit.  A city half the size it once was.  Where they talk about tearing down houses and turning these old neighborhoods into farmland.  In what once was the automobile capital of the world.  Amazing what bad liberal Democrat policies can do.


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Cost of Health Insurance

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2013

Economics 101

Making Health Insurance a Fringe Benefit removed Market Forces from the Equation

The reason why health insurance is so expensive is because it is not insurance anymore.  It’s more of a welfare program.  Where other people pay.  Whereas insurance mitigates financial risk.  People pay a small premium to insure against a large financial loss.  They may pay $250/year to insure something that may cost $25,000 to replace.  For something they may own for 10 years.  Because they would rather spend $250 each year (for a total of $2,500 over those 10 years) than have to replace it by paying another $25,000 should something happen.  Insurance reduces the amount of money you can lose.  In this case the greatest financial loss is reduced from $25,000 down to $2,500.  This is insurance.

Health insurance used to be like this.  When we paid for it ourselves.  But things changed when it became an employee benefit.  Where we no longer saw the true cost of that insurance.  This happened during World War II.  As FDR put in wage caps.  Why?  With all the men in the military and wartime production through the roof there was a shortage of labor.  And the last thing FDR wanted on top of the inflation they were causing by printing so much money to pay for the war was wage inflation.  Hence the wage caps.  But the problem with wage caps is that employers could not entice the best workers to come work for them by offering them higher wages.  So to entice the best workers to come work for them and get around FDR’s wage caps employers began offering fringe benefits.

This is the cause of all our health care woes today.  Making health insurance a fringe benefit.  For it removed market forces from the equation.  People receiving the benefit had no idea what the benefit cost.  And did not care.  Which wasn’t a problem at first.  But then the Sixties came around.  And women stopped having as many babies.  Causing the population to start getting older.  Worse (from the perspective of paying for health insurance), people were beginning to live longer.  So when a person retired from a company they lived a long retirement.  So companies who offered these generous fringe benefits began to suffer under the cost of them.  Between pensions and health care costs retirees were costing some companies more than their active workers.  Because they were living so long into retirement.  (Just as these long retirements are straining Social Security and Medicare).  And modern medicine just keeps pulling them back from the brink of death.  Prolonging this crushing financial burden.

Health Insurance is more Expensive than it once was because it now Pays for Routine Medical Expenses

Compounding this problem is how health insurance is no longer insurance.  Instead of a small premium insuring against a large financial loss people expect health insurance to pay for everything.  And get righteously indignant whenever they have to pay anything out of pocket.  From a prescription co-pay.  To a small co-pay at a doctor’s office.  This is not paying a small premium to insure against a large financial loss.  This is demanding a free ride.  If health insurance was actually insurance it would look something like this:

Health Insurance Cost - Insurance

This assumes a health group with 100 participants.  Of this 100 five people suffer a serious accident in one year.  Incurring a large and unexpected hospital expense of $6,000 each.  While three people suffer a serious illness that same year.  Incurring a large and unexpected hospital expense of $4,500 each.  The total for these large and unexpected costs is $43,500.  If we divide this over the 100 members of the group that comes to an annual health insurance premium of $435 each.  Or $36.25/month.  Or $8.37/week.  Which isn’t much.  If you were one of those suffering a serious accident you didn’t have your personal finances wiped out by an unexpected $6,000 hospital bill.  Instead you only paid a manageable and budgeted $435 each year.  In other words, spending $435 saved $5,565.  Not a bad deal.  This is insurance.  Because it only paid for the unexpected.  Not our routine health care expenses that we should pay out of pocket.  If we add these routine expenses into the health insurance formula we can see how they increase the cost of health insurance.

Health Insurance Cost - Welfare

Assume each person consume $750 in routine medical costs.  For office visits.  Allergy shots.  Vaccinations for the children.  Flu shots.  Seeing the doctor when you have a cold.  Annual checkups.  Physicals.  Cancer screening.  Prescriptions.  Etc.  Those things that can be reasonably expected each year.  When our health insurance policies pay for these routine medical expenses note the large increase in the annual insurance policy premium.  Going from $435 to $1,185.  An increase of 172%.  Everyone will pay $1,185.  Whether they consume $750 in medical costs or not.  Also, of the three things health insurance pays for (serious accidents, serious illnesses and routine medical) routine medical is the biggest of the three.  Explaining why health insurance is now so much more expensive than it needs to be.

It was the Pension and Health care Costs of Retirees that Bankrupted General Motors

This is why it is better to pay out of pocket for these routine costs.  Because if you’re really healthy one year and never see the doctor you will not consume $750 in medical costs.  So if you normally pay these out of pocket but don’t you would only spend $435 that year for real health insurance.  Not the $1,185 that pays for everything.  Whether you use it or not.  This is where market forces come in.  Instead of paying for a costly doctor’s visit when you have a cold you may just buy some over the counter cold medicine from the drugstore.  This is how we behave when we pay for stuff.  But when you introduce a third party it alters our behavior.

“Whether you use it or not.”  When people can get something more for no extra money they are going to take it.  Like going for seconds and thirds at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  It doesn’t cost anything more for the second and third plate.  In fact people will feel cheated if they don’t go for plates 2 and 3.  Because all-you-can-it is pretty expensive if you only eat one plate.  Because that one price pays for 2, 3, even 4 plates.  If you can eat that much.  It’s this mentality that causes people to go to the doctor when they have the sniffles.  So they can get ‘free’ antibiotics.  Because it doesn’t cost anything more.  Since their health insurance is already paying for it.

But it does cost more to those who are paying for it.  A lot more.  So much more that small business owners can’t afford to provide health insurance for their employees.  Because to do so would require that they greatly increase their selling price.  Which they can’t do and expect to stay in business.  Because the market sets the price.  Not them.  It’s up to them to figure out how to sell at a price the people will pay.  And if they raise it too high to pay for health insurance for their employees the people will stop buying from them.  Putting them out of business.  Even bigger businesses struggle with this.  For it was the pension and health care costs of retirees that bankrupted General Motors.  Which was one of those companies that started offering health insurance as a benefit during World War II.  Giving us all our health care woes today.


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The Federal Government’s Finances may be a Mess but they could be Worse…like in Detroit

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 2nd, 2013

Week in Review

President Obama has posted the largest deficits in history.  Exceeding $1 trillion dollars.  In every year of his first term.  Exceeding Ronald Reagan’s maximum deficit of $452.67 billion (adjusted for inflation).  Exceeding George H.W. Bush’s maximum deficit of $474.51 billion.  Exceeding Bill Clinton’s highest deficit of $404.92 billion.  And exceeding George W. Bush’s maximum deficit of $501.21 billion.  President Obama’s average deficit is twice the highest of the 4 previous presidents.  Is anyone a more irresponsible spender than President Obama (see Michigan Gov. Snyder to Appoint Detroit Emergency Manager by Marilisa Sachteleben posted 3/1/2013 on Yahoo! News)?

Detroit has been operating in deficit for some time… The treasurer’s report found that Detroit is currently $327 million in debt, including retiree pensions and healthcare benefits, and owes $14 billion in long-term debt. The Detroit News reports that Dillon said that city officials were borrowing to cover the deficit and treating loans as revenue. Had they not borrowed, the deficit was projected to reach $937 million in fiscal year 2012. The review team’s recommendation was to appoint an emergency manager for Detroit, and Gov. Snyder had 30 days to make the final call…

On March 1, Gov. Snyder made the call and announced that Detroit would be getting an emergency manager.

Well, we have the answer to our question.  Detroit is.

To put this into perspective let’s compare the federal government to Detroit.  With total federal outlays about $3.8 trillion the federal deficit is about 26.3% of total outlays.  Under the 2012-13 budget Detroit will spend approximately $1.12 billion.  Making the real deficit about 83.7% of total outlays.  Is it any wonder the City of Detroit will be getting an emergency manager?

The problem with Detroit is that they’re still spending money like they have a population of 1.8 million (their peak).  The tax base is long gone but spending obligations for pension and health care for retirees are still there.  Why did this happen?  Detroit became one of the most unfriendly places to do business.  High taxes, including a city income tax, and exceptionally high regulatory costs chased the jobs out of Detroit.  And with those jobs went the people.  The tax base.  An object lesson of what liberal Democrat policies gone wild can do to a city.


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Great Britain is trying to Privatize their State Pensions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 26th, 2013

Week in Review

Britain is a social democracy.  Not as much as they were before Margaret Thatcher.  But still a social democracy.  They have national health care.  And state pensions.  Something the American Left always wanted in the United States.  They got the state pensions—Social Security—a long time ago.  But they’ve been waiting a very long time for their national health care.  Now they’ve got something like it in Obamacare.  And now the Left can follow in the footsteps of that social democracy they so admire.  Who has no problem whatsoever in providing those lavish benefits onto their people (see Start retirement saving now or the government may make you by Sarah Mortimer posted 1/25/2013 on Reuters).

Britain may soon have to force workers to start saving for retirement to cut a soaring pensions bill set to reach 120 billion pounds in 20 years…

The government’s current pension legislation is an attempt to tackle the country’s ballooning pensions bill, set to hit 8.5 percent of economic output by 2060, from 6.9 percent now…

Britain lags behind countries including Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia in global pension rankings. Its pension system ranks seventh out of 16 countries in a global comparison of national schemes, according to data from consulting firm Mercer. Its lowly ranking reflects an ageing population, low investment returns and large government debt…

“One way or another, long-term pension contributions will increase,” Paul Macro, defined contribution retirement leader at Mercer said. “The government are trying to stop people relying on the state to support them in retirement.”

An aging population, low investment returns and large government debt?  Sounds like they’re talking about Social Security.

Note how Britain is trying to make their people less dependent on government while the U.S. is trying to make their people more dependent on government.  Even though both countries face the same problems.  An aging population, low investment returns and large government debt.  So it would appear one country—Britain—is trying to be responsible.  While that other country—the United States—isn’t.  Why?  Because Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare are not about taking care of people.  They’re about increasing the power of government.  Which is why the U.S. continues to increase their spending obligations no matter how much they can’t afford to.  Because spending money buys votes.  And winning elections give them power.  Which is what they want.  So they will ignore the responsible governing Britain is doing.  While implementing the kind of programs that caused Britain’s financial problems in the first place.


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