I have waxed lyrical before about independent thinktanks. Given the increasing uniformity of opinion on campuses, where humanities and social science faculty are now typically 95% liberal or leftist in orientation, having venues for classical liberal, libertarian, and conservative scholars is vital in keeping some semblance of intellectual debate alive.
Several recent scholarly contributions illustrate this. All the reports I will mention here are downloadable from the respective institutional websites.
First, from the Fraser Institute of Canada comes a report by the distinguished economists Nadeem Esmail and Michael Walker on the increasing problem of wait times in the Canadian National Health System, the inspiration for so many contemporary liberal nostrums for the problem of the uninsured in the U.S.
The report, entitled “Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada,” is the 17th annual report that the Fraser Institute has produced on the subject. It shows that, despite a massive recent infusion of money into the system by the Canadian government, wait times for medical treatment are longer than ever. For example, the time between seeing a GP and then seeing a relevant specialist increased from 8.8 weeks last year to 9.2 weeks now. And the time between being referred by a specialist for a hospital procedure and finally receiving the hospital treatment increased from 17.8 weeks last year to 18.3 weeks now.
The nearly 90-page report documents the problem in meticulous detail, graphing the widening disparity between reasonable and actual waits, both by province and for the country as a whole. Naturally, not a peep about these wait times has been mentioned in American mainstream news media – but then, the mainstream media are as dominated by leftist orthodoxy as the academy itself.
I found especially useful the authors’ discussion of the inferiority of non-price rationing to price rationing as a way of allocating scarce resources. They make the point I wish were made in business ethics texts – that pricing has the merit of conveying information. In a free-market system, if the price of a drug or medical procedure is high, it informs both the consumer and the producer that they need to modify their behavior. The consumer learns to buy less of this technology,
or work more to afford the price, or consume less of some- thing else. The producer learns to increase production. Others learn to make the same or similar products. All this is negated by government imposed rationing.
Moreover, non-price rationing often results in consum- ers who want or need a product less than others actually get- ting it, to the exclusion of those who need it more. And it can result in other sorts of unfairness, such as people with politi- cal pull or people in a lucky geographic location getting med- ical care before others do. One thinks here of the Canadian minister who, diagnosed with cancer, promptly flew to the U.S. for care. As the authors so nicely put it, “This evidence indicates that rationing by waiting is often a facade for a sys- tem of personal privilege, and perhaps even greater inequal- ity than rationing by price.”
I turn now to the Heritage Foundation. Two of its recent reports make good reading. First is a study by Robert Rector, called “How Poor are America’s Poor? Examining the ‘Plague’ of Poverty in America.” Rector looks at the living standards of America’s poor, the 37 million that Sen. John Edwards keeps telling us live with chronic hunger, lack of shelter, and inad- equate clothing. While not denying that real hardship exists, Rector surveys the data on the poor provided by the Census Bureau, and finds the picture quite different from the one that Edwards and his ilk have painted.
It turns out that 43% of the poor own their own homes, with the average having three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths. Eighty percent of them have air-conditioning. Only 6% of them live in overcrowded homes; 66% have two rooms or more per person. Indeed, the average poor American has more living space than the average citizen of Paris, London, or Vienna. Moreover, 75% of America’s poor own at least one car, and 31°,10 own two or more. Ninety-seven out of 100 own at least one color T~ with over 50% owning two or more, and 620/0 have cable or satellite TV.
Also from Heritage is a report by economists William Beach and Guinevere Nell on the likely consequences of the new tax plan offered by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York) in the name of middle-class tax relief. The report, “The End of Pro-Growth Tax Policy: How the Rangel Tax Bill Could Affect the U.S. Economy,” estimated that the proposed Rangel tax hikes by themselves would cost 100,000 new jobs per year and lower household disposable income by $30 billion per year. Add in the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, and you are looking at losing 600,000 new jobs per year, with a loss of $200 billion per year in household disposable income. Rangel himself calls his bill (which the leading Democrats all seem to favor) “the mother of all tax bills.” He has the “mother” part right.
Central to Rangel’s plan is the imposition of a surtax and other new taxes on higher income earners, who (in the view of Rangel, Edwards, Obama, Clinton, and other such luminaries) are not paying their “fair” share of income taxes. Here a very recent report from the estimable Tax Foundation is pertinent.
This foundation, which has kept the country informed on tax policy at all levels of government since 1937, surveyed the IRS data released in October, and finds (again!) that the rich are indeed not paying their fair share – they are paying more than their fair share. The figures (for 2005) show an even greater contribution from the prior year. The top 1% earn 210/0 of national income but pay 39% of all income taxes; the top 5% earn 36% of all income.but pay 60% of all income taxes; the top 10% earn 46% of income but pay 70% of all income taxes; the top 25% earn 68% of all income but pay 86% of all income taxes; and the top 50% earn 87% of all income but pay 97% of all income taxes.
In view of the fact that to make the top 50/0 of income earn- ers one need only be earning about $145,000 in total house- hold income, it’s obvious that hammering the upper income earners with more punitive taxes is outrageous.
The case for smaller government has to be continuously made, on the basis of data. Absent the contributions of the counter-academy, we wouldn’t have it.