Profits and prophets

The recent health care speech and debate has turned our attention to the idea of a profit motive.    Despite scare-mongering to the contrary, the plan on the table does not socialize medical care.  But President Obama makes no bones about the idea that the profit motive in this case needs to be kept in check.

I think he’s right.  And I think that’s these special ways that this plays out for Christians.

Many people believe that the more unregulated the profit motive is, the more efficient we, as a society become.  Self interest, they say, is the only trait we can really expect from people.  We end up saying if a person behaves in their own self interest this is a morally good thing for them to do.

But are we prepared to deal with the fall out when we apply this logic to providers of health care?  Some of the following are theoretic problems.  Some are actual, every-day, real world problems.  But all of them are examples of health care providers acting to maximize profits:

* Whenever it is cheaper to let a person die than treat a person, it is in the best interest of the provider to allow the person to die, if treatment will be more expensive than the premiums that the person will pay for the rest of their life.

* Whenever amputation is cheaper than rehabilitation or treating an ailment, we should expect the provider to amputate, provided that the amputation won’t interfere with the patient’s ability to pay premiums.

* The cheapest treatment will be preferred.  Even if this treatment is painful, inefficient, carries side effects, etc, this is the one that a rational health care provider will go with.

Their is a public relations aspect to all this.  It can be argued that companies might be willing to lose some profit because the negative PR will cost them more.  And sometimes this helps.  But the PR thing, it’s just another expense.  It’s just a further piece for the executives to figure into the equation.  Somewhere, right now, there is a guy in a suit.  And he is saying “If we do X, we will save Y dollars.   However, the negative PR will cost us an extra ___ dollars.  Which decision leads to a larger profit?  Is there a way we can spend a few dollars to undo that negative PR?”

I’m not meaning to demonize the executives.  They are between a rock and a hard place.  The problem is with the system itself.

For Christians, there is a further complication in all this.

If it’s true that self-interested decisions are the only reliable motivations, then this is a result of man’s fall.  Are we really foolish enough to want to court this?  Are we arrogant enough to think we can harness this?  Do we realize that this really is a deal with The Devil himself, in quite a literal way?

In so many things we are faced with a very difficult balancing act.  On the one side, we must accept that the world is a certain way.  On the other side, we should try to hope, work, and fight for a world that is better.  On the whole, an economy which is capitalistically oriented is a wise recognition of the way that a world is.  But to suggest that industries such as health care ought to be driven by capitalism is to go to far in this direction.


Bail outs?

I continue to find it necessary to take a bit of a sabattical from politics.

It is therefore in a spirit of open — not loaded– questions that I ask this.

What’s the idealogical justification for the massive bail outs going on of all these ailing companies?

I’m not debating the pragmatic effectiveness of it all. 

I’m wondering how somebody explains a belief in the power of the unfettered markets, on the one hand, and on the necessity of such massive government intervention, on the other.  How did Adam Smith’s invisible hands let this happen?

A mostly unrelated question I have around all this stuff is based on something I read in the last few days.  The claim being made was that with out the bail out, the economy will grind to a halt because borrowing and speculation will cease to exist… and so the question here I have:

Is an economy built on borrowing and speculation a well-built economy?  Shouldn’t the foundation of our economy be something stronger than speculation and work we haven’t yet done?


I’m working on transforming myself from a left-wing Christian into a… no-wing Christian.   (We shouldn’t need wings to fly, ha-ha.)

There’s been this tension I’ve been experiencing recently.  It’s been around politics, really.  I am so far from having it worked out.  I’ll probably continue to slip into old patterns when I don’t mean to.  But I’m going to shoot for being a no-wing Christian.

Conversations (both online and real-world) with many of you, and books like Shane Clairborne’s excellent Jesus for President have been some of the external factors that have shaped and driven some of the internal considerations that bring me to this place.

I’m probably going to be mining this territory in my brain/mind/heart/soul for some time, but today I’m going to start with some realizations that maybe laid the groundwork for where I’m at now.

These realizations are the hypocrisy of the right… and the left.

(If hypocrisy is too strong a word, at the bare minimum let’s call these inconsistencies.)

Inconsistency #1

The right says that the government shouldn’t police anything material, physical.  They say down with the EPA, down the FDA, down with consumer protections, because the market will keep us all safe… and then the right goes on to affirm that the government should police everything moral.

Inconsistency #2

The left says that we need tons of government regulation of material things.  But this regulation stops with anything we can put our fingers on.  Many folks on the left want the government to be a-moral, which seems to me do be a virtual impossibility.

Inconsistency #3

The right claims that a free market capitalist system is so powerful because greed is such a profound and universal characteristic.  Yet the claim seems to be that if we weren’t taxed so heavily the extra wealth that we’d all have would be used for so many charitable causes that we wouldn’t need government welfare programs.  This leads to the question: which is it, are people basically good or are people basically selfish?

Inconsistency #4

Many people on the left assert that convicted killers have a right to live, yet won’t accord that same basic right to children who haven’t left the womb.

Inconsistency #5

Many people on the right claim that we don’t have the right to terminate a pregnancy which will eventually lead to a human child… Yet they think that we do have the right to extinguish a fully developed human in the case of the death penalty.

I’m sure that there are more than just these.  And I’m sure that there are ways that some of these tensions and inconsistencies might be resolved.  But they all lead me to the conclusion that there aren’t any real political solutions.