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Author Topic: America's Domestic Issues - Part 4: Energy
Lyrhawn
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It's no secret that the main focus of American politics for the last few years has been foreign policy. But while the issues that concern our interest across the seas are important, equally so are the issues that face us here at home.

On my blog this week and next, I'll be doing a 10 part feature on what I consider to be the biggest domestic issues facing America that do NOT deal with social policy. In other words, gay marriage, abortion, flag burning, and other such issues will not be included in this discussion. I don't see them being solved in the very near future, and when it really comes down to it, there is no pressing need to solve them. While I personally feel that gay rights are an issue of major importance, and the lack of equality is atrocious and deserves immediate remedy, the lack of such a result isn't going to cause the downfall of the nation at any point in the future. The issues I have in mind are of serious consequence to our country and our future. Many of them are of pressing need, and require attentions. Others are simply solid issues that I think should be addressed.

I'll be covering the following issues:

  • Healthcare
  • American Personal Finance
  • Taxes
  • Energy
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Social Security
  • The Military
  • The Budget
  • Compulsory Service


The discussion will be a combination of an overview of the subjects, why I think they matter so much, and my own suggestions on what we should do to fix them. I admit outright that while at least somewhat well informed on all the issues, I have holes in some of my arguments that I wouldn't mind differing opinions on. It's been awhile since I've seen some good debates on some of the domestic issues in America, there's been too much focus on foreign policy, and I think by association, too much neglect.

As I update my blog, I'll be updating this thread with a preview of the next entry. I guess that sort of makes you guys guinea pigs [Smile] But I trust that those of you who would normally participate in such a thread anyway won't mind.

Healthcare

America spends more on healthcare than any other nation in the world, and for our money, we donít have a better system in place than anyone else, in fact, it rates much lower than much of Europe. There needs to be a new focus on prevention, not treatment. Certainly treatment is a big issue, but billions can be saved in dollars, and thousands in lives if we donít allow problems to crop up to begin with. That means making sure US citizens all have access to an affordable doctor, it means they have to get regular checkups, and it means they need to follow the advice given by those doctors. We can expect to see a major drop in diabetes and heart disease, two things that are the result of obesity, which is more and more becoming a major epidemic in this country. Once everyone is covered, the price will go down for everyone, as we slowly get this country healthy as a whole, weíll have to spend less overall.

We must also make strides to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Any plan to make us healthier and to reduce the overall cost has to include drastically reduced prices on drugs. Seniors are buying unsafe drugs from Canada illegally in the thousands, and there are no checks and balances to ensure that those drugs aren't created in some basement in Argentina. They are unsafe, and seniors are dying because they can't afford the real stuff, and because they don't understand the risks involved. We must find a compromise that will protect the profits of Big Pharma and at the same time make their products affordable for the masses. Currently it costs billions for a pharmaceutical company to research and bring a new drug to market. If such a product ends up failing, those billions are lost, even worse if the whole line of drugs fails as has happened lately. And yet their parents last for such a relatively short period of time that they must charge outrageous sums of money for them in order to recoup their investment and profit, and still have money to keep other projects moving. While in the end this system may be profitable for the company, there must be a balance found between profits and the consumer.

There must also be reform of the legal process involved in malpractice cases. We cannot drive good doctors out of the industry through outrageous lawsuits. There needs to be a cap on pain and suffering, which I would arbitrarily set, at its highest, at $250,000. People need to realize that surgery is not 100% safe, and there are no guarantees. If we canít come up with a way to protect against outrageous lawsuits, then soon there might not be any doctors to solve our health problems at all, and then weíll be in serious trouble.

We also need to work on cutting administrative overhead. Billions of dollars are wasted on administrative costs, the paperwork, which should be used for treatment. We can help to do this by moving to a paperless system. Making all the information electronic, we can cut down on errors, easily and quickly transmit medical history, and reduce waste. In other words, weíll save money, increase efficiency and save lives.

But there is much more to do than major policy issues. We need to get back to some basics and take a look at hospital safety measures. A high percentage of post operative infections, and of hospital infections in general are caused because patients get sick from other patients, and the main way this is done is from physicians who donít wash their hands in between patients. If we exact stringent measures on the food industry to make sure that food is cooked to a certain temperature and sauces are heated and cooled in the correct amount of time, certainly we can expect doctors to wash their hands in between patients. There should be a sink in every, single, hospital room. I know it will cost perhaps millions to plumb hospitals correctively, but it is necessary. It will save lives, it will reduce costs to hospitals, and it will get patients out of the hospital faster.

Employers need to take part in this as well, and for good reason. Right now employers are footing a decent part of the bill, and this is the reason why so many are cutting benefits to employees. By making their employees healthy, they can reduce their own costs, and they can increase their productivity through less sick days, maybe even awarding more vacation days, increasing the quality of life in this country by destressing the country. But all in all it will make them more competitive in the world market. They should be an equal partner in offering good health plans to employees, and should offer health club memberships and incentives to use them as well. They should also add incentives to employees who get yearly physicals. These efforts might sound altruistic, but really it all has to do with profit and efficiency. Healthy workers are happy workers, and healthy happy workers are productive workers. Productivity equals profit, and when companies are constantly pushing for increased production for lower costs, anything that can boost it at a lower cost is worthwhile.

In the end I think employers will find this model to be extremely business friendly. Already billions of their dollars are going to a health industry that isn't necessarily giving them a good return on their investment. Once the healthcare system is fully overhauled, and the nation is healthier, prices will go down for business as well. Their money will be much better spent on this system.

If anyone has other ideas, thinks I missed anything, or disagrees, I welcome your ideas. The next subject will be American Personal Finance.

[ May 13, 2007, 06:31 AM: Message edited by: Lyrhawn ]

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Samprimary
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Fun stuff to add!

Yum

Yum!

quote:
The article talks about how the clinics that focused on education and diabetes management (IE, not getting acute symptoms to begin with) are being closed down, since they are not profitable, and how dialysis clinics and other medical centers that handle the high-impact symptoms (after they've started) are printing money hand over fist.

It demonstrates how the profit motive gets in the way of actually doing what's best for the patient.

The system will be reformed. The current model is totally unsustainable.
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Lyrhawn
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Thanks for the articles Sam, those are excellent examples of the exact issues I'm talking about.

I especially appreciate the NYT article for it's specifics on the disparity between treating vs. prevention. The waste in the system is ridiculous.

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Belle
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quote:
There should be a sink in every, single, hospital room. I know it will cost perhaps millions to plumb hospitals correctively, but it is necessary. It will save lives, it will reduce costs to hospitals, and it will get patients out of the hospital faster.
I've spent, over the last few years, a LOT of time in both doctors offices and hospitals, and I've never been in exam rooms or hospital rooms that did not have sinks in them. Nor can I ever remember a doctor who did not either wear gloves when I was being examined, or wash his/her hands before examining me.

Universal precaution rules are already in place which address this - I don't see how anything can be done differently there, and frankly I don't think it's a problem. Doctors and nurses already know that theres is a profession that requires a lot of hand washing...not only for the protection of the patients but also for the protection of themselves.

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Tresopax
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quote:
That means making sure US citizens all have access to an affordable doctor, it means they have to get regular checkups, and it means they need to follow the advice given by those doctors.
Are you proposing that the government force people to have regular checkups and then force them to follow the doctors' advice?
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Belle
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quote:
Are you proposing that the government force people to have regular checkups and then force them to follow the doctors' advice?
That would be a lovely state to live in. Where the government has access to my private medical records and can use them to coerce me into certain behaviors. yeah, sign me up.

Actually, though, I wouldn't be against there being some incentives for making healthier choices, like being a non-smoker, or maintaining a healthy weight. Problem is, I don't see how to set those in place in a way that doesn't violate privacy issues or doesn't rely on some arbitrary set of numbers that's supposed to apply to all people.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Belle:
quote:
There should be a sink in every, single, hospital room. I know it will cost perhaps millions to plumb hospitals correctively, but it is necessary. It will save lives, it will reduce costs to hospitals, and it will get patients out of the hospital faster.
I've spent, over the last few years, a LOT of time in both doctors offices and hospitals, and I've never been in exam rooms or hospital rooms that did not have sinks in them. Nor can I ever remember a doctor who did not either wear gloves when I was being examined, or wash his/her hands before examining me.

Universal precaution rules are already in place which address this - I don't see how anything can be done differently there, and frankly I don't think it's a problem. Doctors and nurses already know that theres is a profession that requires a lot of hand washing...not only for the protection of the patients but also for the protection of themselves.

Ditto. I don't believe this has been a problem for at least 10-20 years.
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Kwea
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As someone who has worked in Healthcare, I can tell you this is completely a non-issue in the US. Getting people to use it is different, but the sanitation stations are already in place, even in older hospitals.
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Lyrhawn
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Alright, I'll have to edit out the whole hospital construction angle, which is fine, but disease transmission via doctors is a MAJOR issue.

Doctors are putting on gloves without washing their hands, which might do wonders to protect the doctors, but the gloves are already contaminated at that point, which can transfer disease. They aren't washing their hands enough, equipment isn't being cleaned properly in between patients, and it's not just about money (which could be as much as a $30 billion dollar loss for hospitals, or as little as $5 billion, there's some differing opinions, as well as 100,000 lives), it's about preparing for the next major epidemic. Check my sources, and others if you doubt them, but this is a big issue at hospitals.

I don't know what can be done to force the doctors and nurses to actually do it, but we have to come up with something, the money and lives involved are too great.

Sources:
rid

APIC

And no, of course I am not suggesting that the government FORCE people to get checkups. That's absurd. We should create a system of incentives and punishments. Considering getting a checkup is in the best interest of the citizen anyway, I think a partnership between business and government could come up with a way to get them to do it. It might be just as simple as ensuring people can get the time off work, maybe paid time off work (for the sake of the middle and lower class) and a bonus, like an extra day off work. We can't force anyone to take care of themselves, but we can create a situation where it's most obviously in their best interest to take care of themselves.

I'm not sure what a program to punish smokers and the overweight would look like. Obesity is a lot trickier, because it isn't just about willpower, there are genetic problems involved with some people. My main concern is getting them to the doctor's office, and treating their problems before they become more expensive and deadly. I don't think just making sure they get to the doctor will be a privacy issue, as it won't at all involve employers or government actually seeing the medical records.

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DarkKnight
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quote:
There needs to be a cap on pain and suffering, which I would arbitrarily set, at its highest, at $250,000. People need to realize that surgery is not 100% safe, and there are no guarantees
I have seen estimates of between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year from hospital errors. I have a big problem with someone going to a hospital for an operation and dying from a 'mistake' and the hospital only has to pay out $250,000. Medical News
quote:
Study Highlights Among the findings in the HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals study are as follows:

-- About 1.14 million patient-safety incidents occurred among the 37 million hospitalizations in the Medicare population over the years 2000-2002.
-- Of the total 323,993 deaths among Medicare patients in those years who developed one or more patient-safety incidents, 263,864, or 81 percent, of these deaths were directly attributable to the incident(s).
-- One in every four Medicare patients who were hospitalized from 2000 to 2002 and experienced a patient-safety incident died.
-- The 16 patient-safety incidents accounted for $8.54 billion in excess in-patient costs to the Medicare system over the three years studied. Extrapolated to the entire U.S., an extra $19 billion was spent and more than 575,000 preventable deaths occurred from 2000 to 2002.
-- Patient-safety incidents with the highest rates per 1,000 hospitalizations were failure to rescue, decubitus ulcer and postoperative sepsis, which accounted for almost 60 percent of all patient-safety incidents that occurred.
-- Overall, the best performing hospitals (hospitals that had the lowest overall patient safety incident rates of all hospitals studied, defined as the top 7.5 percent of all hospitals studied) had five fewer deaths per 1000 hospitalizations compared to the bottom 10th percentile of hospitals. This significant mortality difference is attributable to fewer patient-safety incidents at the best performing hospitals.
-- Fewer patient safety incidents in the best performing hospitals resulted in a lower cost of $740,337 per 1,000 hospitalizations as compared to the bottom 10th percentile of hospitals.


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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by DarkKnight:
quote:
There needs to be a cap on pain and suffering, which I would arbitrarily set, at its highest, at $250,000. People need to realize that surgery is not 100% safe, and there are no guarantees
I have seen estimates of between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year from hospital errors. I have a big problem with someone going to a hospital for an operation and dying from a 'mistake' and the hospital only has to pay out $250,000. Medical News
quote:
Study Highlights Among the findings in the HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals study are as follows:

-- About 1.14 million patient-safety incidents occurred among the 37 million hospitalizations in the Medicare population over the years 2000-2002.
-- Of the total 323,993 deaths among Medicare patients in those years who developed one or more patient-safety incidents, 263,864, or 81 percent, of these deaths were directly attributable to the incident(s).
-- One in every four Medicare patients who were hospitalized from 2000 to 2002 and experienced a patient-safety incident died.
-- The 16 patient-safety incidents accounted for $8.54 billion in excess in-patient costs to the Medicare system over the three years studied. Extrapolated to the entire U.S., an extra $19 billion was spent and more than 575,000 preventable deaths occurred from 2000 to 2002.
-- Patient-safety incidents with the highest rates per 1,000 hospitalizations were failure to rescue, decubitus ulcer and postoperative sepsis, which accounted for almost 60 percent of all patient-safety incidents that occurred.
-- Overall, the best performing hospitals (hospitals that had the lowest overall patient safety incident rates of all hospitals studied, defined as the top 7.5 percent of all hospitals studied) had five fewer deaths per 1000 hospitalizations compared to the bottom 10th percentile of hospitals. This significant mortality difference is attributable to fewer patient-safety incidents at the best performing hospitals.
-- Fewer patient safety incidents in the best performing hospitals resulted in a lower cost of $740,337 per 1,000 hospitalizations as compared to the bottom 10th percentile of hospitals.


Then we have to pay more so our good doctors can afford their malpractice insurance premiums. We cannot have affordable health care AND no limits on how much you can sue for.
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Paul Goldner
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"We cannot have affordable health care AND no limits on how much you can sue for."


Really? Why not? From the estimates I've seen, the vast majority of health care cost increases that stem from malpractice suits are mostly health insurance agencies jacking up costs and SAYING its because of doctors being sued... not due to actual increases in legal costs and payouts.

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Lyrhawn
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To clarify, I meant a specific cap just on Pain and Suffering payments, not on the total payout.

As far as payouts go for things like long term care, medications, surgeries, etc, it should be whatever is determined the patient needs, in wrongful death cases, it'll be the result of whatever lost income and other costs that come from losing the patient for the surviving family.

But I have seen some ridiculous pain and suffering rewards when I used to work for a structured settlement office, so I know they happen in the big hospital malpractice cases.

Frankly I don't know enough about tort reform to delve into the issue very deeply and with a lot of detail, so I won't even try to tackle the rest of it.

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ClaudiaTherese
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quote:
Originally posted by Paul Goldner:
"We cannot have affordable health care AND no limits on how much you can sue for."


Really? Why not? From the estimates I've seen, the vast majority of health care cost increases that stem from malpractice suits are mostly health insurance agencies jacking up costs and SAYING its because of doctors being sued... not due to actual increases in legal costs and payouts.

I worry more about the numbers of physicians now not willing to take on high-risk patients becausde they can't afford malpractice insurance, e.g., for OB-Gyn coverage.

IIRC, most of the malpractice suits are against OB-Gyns. This isn't because there is a stupedous supply of bad physicians there, but because of the nature of the care provided. And so now the coverage looks to be faltering, because at least some can't afford to practice this way and pay out the insurance premiums.

---

Edited to add: Not in contrast to Paul's point, BTW, just elaborating on it. Regardless of why the premiums are raised, it has very real effects for patients.

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Lyrhawn
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Time for the next installment, and it's American Personal Finance. In other words, how Americans spend and save their money. Keep in mind in the following essay that when I say "Americans" I usually mean "the majority of Americans" rather than a blanket statement about the entire country. Feel free to check out my blog and leave a comment on the healthcare article.

American Personal Finance

Part of the problem with solving Social Security is that so many Americans look at it as their retirement income. Itís not. Americans should be saving literally hundreds of thousands of dollars over the decades of their adulthood to pay for their golden years. But Americans arenít doing that. They arenít saving for retirement, in fact, they arenít saving at all. Americans spend 100.1% of the money they earn, and in case you are wondering, yes, they spend one hundred dollars and ten cents for every hundred dollars they earn. Not only are we not saving, weíre spending ourselves into debt that can never be gotten rid of. Clearly Americans do not know how to be responsible stewards of their own finances. Something must be done from the government to induce Americans to save early in their youth for retirement, and in general. A thousands dollars not put away at the age of 25 will cost tens of thousands to replace in your mid 30ís. Why? Because that thousand dollars builds on itself for that decade, and the interest it earns builds on that, and so on and so forth. Saving a lot and saving early on is the key to having a stable retirement fund. Government needs to find a way to get young people to save for retirement, perhaps by offering matching funds for a certain amount of money put away, on the condition that that money absolutely cannot be touched until retirement and offering tax breaks and benefits as well. Further, they need to find a way to get Americans to save more money and spend less! Right now the only thing bolstering the economy is insane consumer spending, but itís not going to last forever. Food is getting more expensive, as is gas, and other items. Itís draining away money from the American economy, and it leaves American people horribly vulnerable to economic swings. With no safety net in the bank, what will they do when the car breaks down, or when they lose their job? Chances are they will rely on a credit card with ridiculously high interest rates. My grandparentsí generation saved as much as half their paychecks away in the bank, which helped create unparalleled wealth in America. My generation is likely to have negative savings, in other words, huge debt, especially given the cost of an education. The government doesnít do a very good job by having a nine trillion dollar debt, which sets a horrible example. Having money in the bank, having a secure retirement, and reducing the role of government as a safety net will make us a stronger, more stable nation. It comes down to this:

People should be responsible for their own financial well being. The government shouldnít be there, be it through Social Security or anything else to support you when you are older. What the government should do, is spur you to do so yourself. We arenít France, we wonít tax you 40% to secure your future, but it is clear the American people arenít going to do it ourselves, we live too much in the moment. Social Security is a huge drain on the economy and the nationís coffers. Letís reduce it, and maybe some day get rid of it. People need to be given more options to grow their money. The thousands of dollars I give to Social Security over my life will have a much smaller rate of return than the money I save personally, because my investments will be diversified over the 30 some odd years of my adult work life, and they will get as much as eight to ten percent back, while Social Security might only get me half that. Itís time to put control of our futureís back in our hands, even if that control has to be forced down our throats.

Such a change is going to be hard. But the consumer spending that is driving our economy isnít sustainable, and it isnít safe for us. Many millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck with no reserve ready for emergencies. Financial advisors recommend you have enough money in the bank at any given time to cover three months of your bills in case an emergency arises, or as much as six months if you only have a single income. But few people have such a safety net.

Zero savings, lackluster retirement funds, running up huge debt (the average American credit card debt is ), record numbers of bankruptcies, and huge credit card interest rates are all bad signs for the American consumer. Credit Card companies not happy with their billions in earnings are actually penalizing cardholders now for paying off their debt in full at the end of the month. They are jacking up interest rates and charging ridiculous fees whenever they think it wonít be noticed. Whatís troubling is that a third of credit card debt is held by households making less than $50,000 a year, and half of them are only paying their minimum payments, almost ensuring theyíll never get the bills paid off. Half of that third make less than $30,000 a year. America might be the richest country on the planet, but millions of Americans are still living far beyond their means. We need a reality check, for the good of the nation and itís citizensí long term survival and prosperity.

Now much of this is tied into my call to fix Social Security, but something must be done to convince Americans to save more of their money. I would suggest matching funds for savings from the government, but there's no way such a massive surge in spending could be paid for without taxes, so I really don't know how to solve this one, but it's time it started seeing more attention paid to it.

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scholar
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As far as forcing checkups, being on WIC, I am required to prove that I take my child to checkups on the assigned checkup schedule. Medicaid sends me letters explaining the need for vaccinations and checkups and reminds me when the next one is due. I don't feel like that is a violation of my rights. Since I am getting a huge benefit by having my bills paid, I think that telling me to go on schedule is legit. Now, if they were to take this to the next level and go through my charts and tell me to lose weight or stop eating chocolate ever, then I would have an issue.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
Clearly Americans do not know how to be responsible stewards of their own finances. Something must be done from the government to ...
While the first statement is undeniably true, that doesn't mean that the government should do something about it.
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Lyrhawn
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Well my "plan" is rather vague, and the entire focus of the issue is to get people to take control of their own lives and finances without government assistance, but frankly, I have zero idea of how to do that without the government basically forcing the responsibility on them. Americans are either too willfully ignorant, just plain stupid, or in denial about their finances, and even record numbers of bankruptcies aren't spurring them to action. Who is left to get it done?

This dovetails with my essay on social security which I haven't posted yet, but the gist of it is that people need to be responsible for their own futures and stop relying on the government to be their safety net.

Still, if you have ideas on how to make the second part of that statement not include government whilst fixing the first half, I am all ears.

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Samprimary
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There was a fascinating article somewhere by someone whose name I do not remember. It was a compelling look into the world of the perpetually transient population otherwise known as 'street bums.' A sizeable portion of these street bums are absolutely catastrophic financial invalids incapable of caring for themselves, and they will reliably never be.

The common moral argument is that all people should be responsible for their own finances, but then he pointed out the haunting fact that when these people are left to their own devices, they actually cost society more than if they were to get shacked up with free room, board, and food by Joe Taxpayer. Sure enough, we end up paying more of our taxes to them on account of how they end up getting dealt with by police and medical professionals. The decision to footloose them comes at the cost of a larger taxpayer burden. The article was not advocating any change in public policy, it was just analyzing why we choose the higher burden, willingly, and leave them on the streets. It was an interesting look into how our policies often follow moral trends rather than economic efficiencies, and a side analysis of this is one that delves into why we have a lot of 'halfway' commitments like Social Security which try to avoid being full welfare.

But an even creepier outward analysis is the discovery that the more our own personal economies are subverted and redistributed by the government, the more fiscally reliable the populace becomes. By having 'responsibility' shoved down their throats by mandated systems, you can keep your population from having excessive cycles that self-destruct finances. Odd, what.

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dkw
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The article was in the New Yorker. I'll see if I can find it online.

Edit: link to abstract

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twinky
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
...when these people are left to their own devices, they actually cost society more than if they were to get shacked up with free room, board, and food by Joe Taxpayer.

Exactly.
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Stephan
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I wonder if that $100.10 per $100 earned includes mortgages. At this point in my life, including my mortgage, I have spent many more times what I have actually earned. On a monthly basis though I spend less then what I earn.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
I have zero idea of how to do that without the government basically forcing the responsibility on them.
This is absolutely impossible. If you force me to act responsible, I am not being responsible.

It sounds like you want the government to force people to act in certain financially responsible ways, making their their financial decisions dependent on government rules, so that those people won't be dependent on the government where their finances are concerned.

quote:
I wonder if that $100.10 per $100 earned includes mortgages. At this point in my life, including my mortgage, I have spent many more times what I have actually earned. On a monthly basis though I spend less then what I earn.
Are you factoring in the value of your home?
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Dagonee
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quote:
Originally posted by twinky:
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
...when these people are left to their own devices, they actually cost society more than if they were to get shacked up with free room, board, and food by Joe Taxpayer.

Exactly.
Did the study include an analysis of whether the existence of such programs would increase the number of people who "need" such a program?
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Lyrhawn
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MPH -

So....

We just give up and let people spend themselves into banktuptcy and keep everyone living off social security until it bleeds us dry?

Like I said, I know my solutions are vague and lacking in, well, substance, but I know the issue is a problem, and I refuse to believe there is no way to solve it.

Things are only going to get worse. Social Security is nearing the point where it will be unsustainable as it is, and then we will be forced to cut benefits or massively increase revenues (taxes). At what point does the burdern on the public become more of a problem than making peple handle it themselves would be?

If we do nothing and let the problem fester, then by the time we do get around to fixing SS, the benefits of the program won't be enough to keep people out of poverty. The rising cost of food and medicines combined with lower benefits will leave people in only a slightly better off condition than they are in now, plus whatever meager retirement money, if any, they have stashed away. Some of this will be eased by the other nine parts of my essays, but this is a big one.

If no one has any ideas then I'll just leave the essay as a call to action, but I refuse to believe that the status quo is the best option, and that we have nothing better as a possibility.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
We just give up and let people spend themselves into banktuptcy and keep everyone living off social security until it bleeds us dry?
You seem to be going on the assumption that there is nothing in between using governmental force to make changes and doing absolutely nothing. No, I don't have specific suggestions, but I am deeply suspicious of always going first to the government to fix our problems.

I think that saying "the government should do something" is almost always a bad idea. We should only say "the government should do X" when we have an X which looks like it will solve the problem at an acceptable cost.

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The Pixiest
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quote:

Something must be done from the government to induce Americans to save

How about the government stop stealing half their income?

How about we stop turning to government to solve all our freaking problems and get a little personal responsibility?

The reason people don't save is they think that if things fall apart, the government will be there to bail them out. Back before the new deal, people scrimped and saved and had stronger familial bonds so that if disaster struck, they would be prepared. Now days, "Well, ya can't take it with you so I'm going to spend all I got." (YES, Someone actually told me that in 2000 when I was warning that a recession was coming. The same person mocked me for my savings habits) with the assumption that, hey, if they lose their jobs they'll just max out their credit cards, file bankrupsy and get some government assistance.

Saying that the government needs to make people save and offer incentives to do so is beyond wacky. Government is the problem. Not the solution.

As for what people should do...

Be more frugal! Jeez, you don't need a freaking new car! If your old car is running, drive it till it dies! A new car isn't just the insane purchase price, it's insurance and registration and tax and all the stuff that goes with a new car!

Pay off your credit cards. If you can't pay off your credit cards, stop charging stuff! You're spending money you don't have! Keeping stuff on your credit cards is reverse saving. People tell you over and over and over how much money you make if you save your money, you LOSE money even faster if you keep it on your credit cards! Carry a balance of 10K and in 4 years you're out 20K.

Clothes: You don't have to wear new clothes all the time. Throw em out when they get holes but if they're a few years old and still wearable, WEAR them! And when you buy new clothes, you don't have to go to freaking Nordies. Wal*Mart and Target are an option. And if you wrinkle your nose at that, and you haven't paid off your credit cards, then YOU are who I'm talking to.

Saving money isn't that hard if you have a reasonably decent job. But the government doesn't enter into it except as a hinderance.

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Lyrhawn
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To both of you -

The problem with that is I really agree with both of you. Telling someone to just be more frugal is one thing, but they aren't doing it, and it costs everyone. At what point does a LACK of personal responsibility that harms EVERYONE become a big enough concern for people en masse to do something about it?

And I just don't see what else can be done. If the government doesn't have to get involved, then really, so much the better I'd be thrilled. But people aren't being responsible, and even losing their lives and their money, isn't enough to convince other people that they should change their habits.

As for the government taking all our money, you'll have to wait for my other essays, but I cover that too. The whole point of all these essays is efficiency. The focus is on reducing costs for everyone, making things run smoother, and getting people to step up and stop being so damned lazy.

I guess this one will just have to remain as a call to action, since by and large Americans aren't going to solve their own problems, and apparently also agree that government shouldn't help them solve them. I really don't know what that leaves. Maybe we just all need to collapse into poverty before we learn our collective lesson.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
The whole point of all these essays is efficiency. The focus is on reducing costs for everyone, making things run smoother, and getting people to step up and stop being so damned lazy.
Having the government force us to save money will do the opposite of reducing governmental costs and getting people to step up and stop being so damned lazy.
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Lyrhawn
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That's fine, I'm not going to defend it because I don't necessarily think it's the best idea either.

So give me some alternatives.

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AvidReader
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I'd really like people to be actively involved in planning their own retirement savings. We got planning workbooks when we signed up for our 401(k)s at work. I'll need about 1.2 million when I retire, but I can get it by putting back about $200 a month in tax deferred savings. That's not that much for Chet and I since we're both working and got a dog instead of having kids.

Maybe folks just don't know it can be that easy. Maybe they're scared to think about retirement cause they don't know how little it can take to plan ahead. This might be something we can fix with a good PR campaign and a personal finance requirement to graduate high school. (I'd rather see it in middle school before we lose the drop outs, but I doubt there'd be much support that early.)

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El JT de Spang
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
quote:
We just give up and let people spend themselves into banktuptcy and keep everyone living off social security until it bleeds us dry?
You seem to be going on the assumption that there is nothing in between using governmental force to make changes and doing absolutely nothing. No, I don't have specific suggestions, but I am deeply suspicious of always going first to the government to fix our problems.

I think that saying "the government should do something" is almost always a bad idea. We should only say "the government should do X" when we have an X which looks like it will solve the problem at an acceptable cost.

Porter's a closet Libertarian!
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El JT de Spang
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quote:
The problem with that is I really agree with both of you. Telling someone to just be more frugal is one thing, but they aren't doing it, and it costs everyone. At what point does a LACK of personal responsibility that harms EVERYONE become a big enough concern for people en masse to do something about it?
The problem is we need a total paradigm shift. People expect that the government will pick up their dirty socks, cook for them, and wake them up for school every day.

My solution would be some tough love from D.C. People don't want to save for retirement? Then they get to spend their golden years in a homeless shelter.

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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
That's fine, I'm not going to defend it because I don't necessarily think it's the best idea either.

So give me some alternatives.

I think "do nothing" is almost always a better alternative than having the government "do something" without defining exactly what that something is.

quote:
Porter's a closet Libertarian!
Closet nothing.

Of course, I could never be a true libertarian, but do certainly have some leanings in that direction.

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The Pixiest
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Lyr: The solution is easy. Just stop being everyone's sugar daddy. I realize it will be hard to get re-elected without buying votes with tax payer money, but it's the only ethical solution.

Without social programs the entitlement mentality will go away and people will save or starve. "But what if they can't find work?" We have people flooding into this country who don't even speak english who are getting jobs below minimum wage and saving enough to send it back to mexico, so don't give me that. If it's work or starve, people will find jobs. And there's enough charity to take care of the disabled. Americans are VERY giving.

You assert that people not saving for retirement "Hurts us all," but the only reason it hurts us is because they have the expectation that the government will take care of them and the people in government are too vote hungry and have no concept of the value of a dollar to say No.

Remember all the talking about credit cards up the thread? Remember that all these people who carry balances on their credit cards are legally eligable to vote. And they vote for people, like themselves, who are completely braindead about money.

Cut out the Pork that is social spending and all this will sort itself out.

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Jhai
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Yeah, I'm perfectly okay with letting people reap the benefits of their own stupidity. That being said, I would like to see more information about private finances in our education system - or otherwise making it more readily available - so that children who don't get this at home can get it elsewhere.
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BlackBlade
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You know I always liked the Chinese way of dealing with retirement.

1: You raise children so that when they are grown they can take care of you.

2: If you don't have children for whatever reason you work doing something until you drop dead.

I hate the fact that I pay into a social security fund that will most likely NOT be there for me if I needed it. Currently I live pay check to pay check, and I have a small amount of debt to my parents because of circumstances I could not control.

I can't afford health insurance, unless I qualify for medicade. I pay rent, food, utilities, car insurance, and my phone bill. I have tuition payments down the road that I am relying on pel grants to pay because I do not want to go into debt for school. I just hope to high heaven that once I get my degree Ill find a job where I have next months rent ready at the beginning of the month instead of barely having enough when rent is due.

I am convinced however that if you need to make just the bare neccesities, if you are willing to work hard, you can get them. With alittle know how you can make money on top of that. Its this sense of feeling entitled to everything that many wealthy Americans own that bankrupts people.

TV sets in prison cells are the boldest statement of this sentiment I can think of.

Don't get me wrong, I love TV. But the only reason I get cable is because my land lord pays for it. As it is I may be moving to a less nice apt so that I pay about $50-100 less in monthly rent. Its just really hard to make it on what I am currently paying. I don't like the fact I have almost $0 after paying all my bills. But even I must confess I could do alot to save a bit more money.

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dkw
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:


TV sets in prison cells are the boldest statement of this sentiment I can think of.


In prisons where they've eliminated TVs the guards have lobbied to get them back. People are easier to manage when they sit in front of the zombie-box. It's a pacifier, not a perk.
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mr_porteiro_head
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quote:
You know I always liked the Chinese way of dealing with retirement.

1: You raise children so that when they are grown they can take care of you.

2: If you don't have children for whatever reason you work doing something until you drop dead.

It seems to me that this sort of retirement plan is dependent on having as many children as possible, which China has stopped.
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Stephan
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quote:
Originally posted by mr_porteiro_head:
Are you factoring in the value of your home?

I'm not, but the stat doesn't say anything about net worth. I didn't "earn" the value of the house.
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BlackBlade
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dkw: I am not suggesting getting rid of TVs in prisons, I know why they are there. I am simply saying that most Americans seem to believe they HAVE to own a TV to be content with their lifestyle.

Porter: Not really, even with multiple children its the oldest son's responsibility typically to house their parents. Its more contingent on placing almost inhuman pressure on children to do well in school so they make alot of money in their older years.

edit: remember the one child policy is only about 50 years old, Chinese culture and ideas go back up to 5000 years.

Also there are millions of Chinese outside mainland China in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Canada, US, Singapore, Australia, etc.

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dkw
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
dkw: I am not suggesting getting rid of TVs in prisons, I know why they are there.

Then it's not a particularly good example of your complaint, let alone "the boldest statement of" it, is it?
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by dkw:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
dkw: I am not suggesting getting rid of TVs in prisons, I know why they are there.

Then it's not a particularly good example of your complaint, let alone "the boldest statement of" it, is it?
I disagree. Prisoners, who are to many at the lowest tier of society, demand TVs. Do they need them? I do not think they do. Are there many factors that come into play with a television pacifying them, yes.

Remember I said,
quote:
TV sets in prison cells are the boldest statement of this sentiment I can think of
(emphasis mine)

I have no problem with you coming up with a better one. I still think Americans feel entitled to TVs.

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dkw
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My point is that TVs are not in prisons because prisoners demand them. They are there becasue guards demand them. So it is not an example of your point at all.
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Sean
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quote:
. A thousands dollars not put away at the age of 25 will cost tens of thousands to replace in your mid 30ís.
More like two thousand.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by dkw:
My point is that TVs are not in prisons because prisoners demand them. They are there becasue guards demand them. So it is not an example of your point at all.

Are you sure the prisoners do not want them as well? I know prison wardens have removed the TVs to punish the prisoners or toughen up on them, or save money, and had the guards protest the decision. This does not prove the prisoners are indifferent on the matter.
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BaoQingTian
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Personally, I think a more appropriate example might relate to people in a more typical situation, rather than the extraordinary situation that prisoners are in. Although I have questions about the details of the figure, the $100.10 spent for $100 dollars earned as a national average is a pretty bold statement in my opinion.

The needs or wants of people locked in a cage for most of the day aren't easily generalized into social statements concerning the rest of the population.

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Lyrhawn
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I edited the original version quite bit, but you can read the final version here. Thanks for all the discussion on here, it really helped with the final tone of the essay.

So anyway, on to the next essay, but this one is a mini-one. Taxes:

Taxes Ė Itís high time we simplified the tax code. We spend millions every year just paying people to try and make sense of it. Literally billions of dollars of money that should be returned to our citizens is lost because they donít claim it. Thatís money stolen from the hands of the people. Further, the difficult tax code stifles foreign investment. Companies that have to spend thousands of dollars just to understand the ground rules before they even invest in America will look elsewhere for somewhere easier to break into. It also works against the small business owner. I think itís time to experiment with, and possibly slowly phase in a national sales tax, and get rid of all payroll taxes and corporate taxes. Corporate taxes are an illusion anyway. Costs from corporate taxes are passed down to the consumer through price increases, which effectively leaves consumers paying twice, once out of their paychecks and once at the cash register. Cut those taxes and make American companies more competitive. At the same time this will bring in more income as all purchases made in the US will bring in tax money, which means a consumer driven economy can only enrich the coffers, and further, non-US citizens will be contributing as well with every purchase they make. Itís the ultimate way to make sure Americans have total control over what taxes they pay, with every purchase they make. If we simplify the tax code, we can make the country more efficient, give the people more control over their lives, and make America more competitive in the world economy. If it turns out it isnít a good enough replacement for payroll taxes, then we lose nothing in trying, but the system as it stands is too convoluted and weighs down on our economy and our lives. We earn our money, we work our whole lives, work ourselves to death sometimes, and we should have more control of the money we make. Government spends too much, and it takes too much, and itís time for a change.

I'm totally open to suggestions, though I've read enough FairTax vs. status quo arguments on here. I'll probably post the next essay later tonight or tomorrow, and that one will be on Energy.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by BaoQingTian:
Personally, I think a more appropriate example might relate to people in a more typical situation, rather than the extraordinary situation that prisoners are in. Although I have questions about the details of the figure, the $100.10 spent for $100 dollars earned as a national average is a pretty bold statement in my opinion.

The needs or wants of people locked in a cage for most of the day aren't easily generalized into social statements concerning the rest of the population.

The $100.10 spent for every $100 earned is a fact I got from CNNMoney. I don't know the details of how it was derived, but I can start looking.
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mr_porteiro_head
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I personally like the idea of taxing people based on what they spend rather than on what they earn, but it's not going to happen.

One reason is that sales taxes are regressive, meaning that the poorer you are, the higher percentage of your earnings which will tend to go toward taxes.

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