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Saturday, September 30, 2006

2006 Voter's Guide Begins!

Election Day, November 7, is fast approaching, and with 11 ballot measures to decide in addition to the races for US House, governor, and other state and local offices, we South Dakotans have a lot to figure out before marking our ballots. Over the coming weeks, I will offer my recommendations on the various races and issues. I will also create an index on my home page to compile all of the recommendations in one easy summary that voters can print and take to the polls with them as a checklist to make sure they're doing the right thing for this great state. Let the debates rage, and let's all get out and vote!

19 comments:

  1. Yes, those horrible telecommunication companies! How dare they spend their money to convince people to vote for something that would benefit them. If people are dumb enough to be convinced by political campaigns and commercials they shouldn't be voting in the first place.
    I notice that your basis for not wanting the measure to pass is based on little more then that a big business type wants to pass it. Do you have some reason it should be taxed? Does society incur some cost from wireless telecommunications that government can feel justified in taking money from Verizon to satisfy that cost? I can't think of any. I think it more likely that the government just saw another pile of money and wanted it.

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  2. Yes, I am suspicious of big business using its financial clout to get measures that serve its interests on the South Dakota ballot. I'm not convinced this tax cut would benefit us; I suspect it would only allow Verizon more room to raise its rates without sliding down the demand curve (it's only a 4% difference, but for big corporations, every penny counts). I am as suspicious of the motives of big business as Phaedrus is of the motives of big government. I may even be more suspicious of big business: even when big business is playing by the rules, its mission is to act entirely in its own interest. At least when government functions honestly (and we can argue about how often that happens), it functions in the interest of society as a whole. No matter how suspcious we may be of government, the government is still us, while big business is irreducibly them. So yes, when I hear big business is in favor of a ballot measure, I may well vote against it as quickly as Phaedrus would vote against any measure that the government favors.

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  3. There isn't much to argue with. We have a fundamental difference because you don't think business, big or small, is us. If every individual has the potential to reach the heights or wallow in their soul's filth then the same is still true whether they are located in the Boardroom, the capitol building, the commune, or the slum. You can have every justification for mistrusting Verizon because they are Verizon, you have no grounds to mistrust them because they are big. They are looking out for their interest, the same as every voter out there and just because it benefits them doesn't mean it won't benefit us (er...South Dakotans anyway)
    besides, it is their money. The burden of proof is on us to take it away, not on them to justify keeping it.

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  4. The more I'm thinking about the tax issues on this year's ballot, the more I'm thinking that they all have to go. Why should citizens ever expect one section of the population to pay more for public services? Why single out smokers? Video lottery? Cell phone companies? The arguments made in favor of the smoking tax are that it would decrease smoking... but if we want to decrease smoking, then the solution is to ban it. I am not a smoker, but I don't see why I should expect smokers to pay more for our roads and schools than non-smokers.

    Responsibility is the only principles that politics should be based upon. Casual abortion is irresponsible, so it should be banned. But taxing citizens unequally is also irresponsible on the government's part: they aren't treating all citizens equally. Tax brackets based on income are possibly justifiable (poverty-level economics, etc.), but not tax brackets based on consumer preferences. What if they over-taxed organic food, bicycles, or modern art? Not fair is it...

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  5. The more I'm thinking about the tax issues on this year's ballot, the more I'm thinking that they all have to go. Why should citizens ever expect one section of the population to pay more for public services? Why single out smokers? Video lottery? Cell phone companies? The arguments made in favor of the smoking tax are that it would decrease smoking... but if we want to decrease smoking, then the solution is to ban it. I am not a smoker, but I don't see why I should expect smokers to pay more for our roads and schools than non-smokers.

    Responsibility is the only principles that politics should be based upon. Casual abortion is irresponsible, so it should be banned. But taxing citizens unequally is also irresponsible on the government's part: they aren't treating all citizens equally. Tax brackets based on income are possibly justifiable (poverty-level economics, etc.), but not tax brackets based on consumer preferences. What if they over-taxed organic food, bicycles, or modern art? Not fair is it...

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  6. Phaedrus says above: "You can have every justification for mistrusting Verizon because they are Verizon, you have no grounds to mistrust them because they are big."

    Actually, size does matter. Size is exactly the problem. I mistrust big government because its very size hinders its ability to recognize and respond to the needs of its citizens and insulates possible abusers of its power from accountability. The same is true of any organization, corporations included. Size may have its benefits (economies of scale and so on), but even if those advantages outweigh the disadvantages, bigger organizations require more oversight and more wariness on the part of the individuals those organizations rule and/or serve.

    A couple sources on size as cause for suspicion:

    --Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale from 1980.

    --Michael Pollan, various texts, but most recently, "The Vegetable-Industrial Complex," New York Times, 2006.10.15.

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  7. David, David, ever the man of principle. That's why I respect him so. A tax policy based on principle would be wonderful -- if nothing else, I'd think it ould be easier to predict which government would come to expropriate from us.

    Of course, taxing everyone fairly does not mean taxing everyone equally. David says it doesn't seem fair to tax people based on consumer preferences -- indeed, I would be unhappy if the government decided to slap an extra tax on bicycles but not on other modes of transportation.

    However, the tax on cigarettes is not simply about a consumer choices. Choices have consequences as well. The tobacco tax proponents argue that smokers cost the state omething ike $250 million dollars a year in health care costs. When consumer choices lead to impacts that affect everyone, we may be able to justify taxing those individual making those costly choices at a higher rate.

    That thinking does make me nervous, though: it seems to lead to a fat tax, where the government starts adding taxes to Doritos and cookies and other junk food. I'm still thinking through how far I trust government to decide what's good for people and how much it will penalize people for making bad choices.

    And now moving perhaps too far afield for this one topic, I wonder: could I apply David's principle of equal taxation to an argument against property tax? Is it fair that the state derives revenue from landowners but not from renters? To what extent can the government justify taxing the owner of an old 1000-sq.ft. home less than a young family who chooses a new 2000-sq.ft. home? And to what extent is it fair to increase the property taxes on a school teacher and his hippie wife, dedicated to a life of service and near poverty, based on the consumer choices of much wealthier people who drive up the value of lakefront property with million-dollar mansions?

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  8. On the cell phone tax repeal (Initiated Measure 8): On KELO Sunday night, State Rep. Jerry Apa noted that if Verizon were interested in tax fairness, they would put have puta measure on the ballot to repeal the taxes on wireless communications and on landlines. Apa said that even though it doesn't appear on consumer's bills as a separate line item, Qwest and other landline providers have a tax similar to the contested cell phone tax assessed within their normal charges. Initiated Measure 8 does not touch that tax. if IM-8's backers' arguments bout double taxation are valid, then they should be just as outraged by the state's oppression of Qwest and landline users. But no, Verizon's mouthpieces appear concerned about the profits of their particular business. "Tax cuts for me, not for thee" -- not exactly the principle I want guiding fiscal policy.

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  9. "The tobacco tax proponents argue that smokers cost the state something like $250 million dollars a year in health care costs."


    Which leads us to another bad idea: state-funded health care. The government should make smokers take responsibility for their own actions... sure they can smoke, but they have buy a replacement set of lungs on their own.

    Or ban smoking.

    But raising tax revenue off it doesn't solve anything (which, if I understand correctly, the new smoking tax money is mostly going toward anti-smoking commercials and educational hoo-ha... ie less time learning about dangling participles). It just leaves us with a video lottery predicament down the road... we may want to ban it but we can't, because we rely on the tax money from it.

    I base my political beliefs on the principle of responsibility first and minarchism second... what are your ultimate value contentions when it comes to the government and its decisions? Philosophically, why do you advocate a big government always messing around in our lives? Is it right to have an entity taking property by force and giving it to one who has less property? Obviously, some taxation is necessary for public services... but I see no philosophical justification for communism... unless all the communists are willing participants like we find in the book of Acts.

    (And yes if there's an over-tax on land lines, I would be against that, too. Qwest and Midcontinent should get that on the ballot.)

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  10. On paying for your own set of lungs -- David misses a crucial reality of the free-market system. The problem in this case is not irresponsible smokers expecting the government to pay for their new lungs. The problem is selfish smokers -- "I'll spend my money on smokes if I darn well please!" -- who have enough money to afford good health insurance policies and new lungs. The well-to-do smoker who pays for his own replacement lungs (or replacement lung insurance... ;-) ) still imposes externalities on the rest of us. After a lifetime of blowing his noxious fumes in my airspace, the smoker then goes to the hospital, pays big money for expensive services to fix a problem he could have avoided in the first place by simply choosing not to smoke, and drives up everyone else's costs as well. As smokers increase their utilization of the health care system, they drive up demand and hence costs. Think of it: the smokers tie up doctors' time, causing the rest of us to pay more to get the doctors' attention between golf breaks. The smokers drive up costs for the insurance companies, which then pass the costs on not only to the smoker and other smoking policyholders but to every policyholder. Even in a purely free market system with no tax dollars involved, the health care costs associated with smokers still impact all of us. Adam Smith himself says the third proper role of government, after stopping North Korea from nuking us and breaking up bar fights, is to do those things the free market is unable to do. The free market does not effectively limit the costs of smoking to those individuals who choose to smoke. Where the free market fails make individuals take full responsibility for their actions, government can step in to rebalance the scales of justice.

    This discussion may be leading me to confirm my vote in favor of the tobacco tax increase. I hope I'm not leaning that way just because I like to argue with David!

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  11. Thanks for a perfectly good argument for why we should ban smoking. Get it on the ballot and I'll vote for it. But initiative 2 is something else... even if it has a side-effect of decreasing smoking, it has a main effect of unjustly taxing one segment of citizens. I believe that Joe Camel and David Bergan should be equally liable for funding public services... it's unjust to make David pay a $1 and Joe pay $1.60.

    (Ideally, to really level tax liability, I think everything should be reduced to a sales tax... no property tax, income tax, etc. And it would be fair that basic necessities are exempt from sales tax: bread, beans, water, etc.)


    Were my other questions too hard? What is your foundation for making political decisions? I've never heard you explain why you hold the beliefs that you do... which makes me wonder if you aren't just ranting/voting out of sheer self-interest and have no political philosophy whatsoever. "Tax the other guys so I don't have to pay as much!" and "Implement universal health care, so that the rich Americans can pay for my hospital bills!" aren't particularly enlightening positions.


    "This discussion may be leading me to confirm my vote in favor of the tobacco tax increase. I hope I'm not leaning that way just because I like to argue with David!"

    Well if that's the case... I think the smoking tax, cell phone tax, and video lottery tax are fair and all great ideas. Tax sins and cells. It's wise and just to balance the books of our government on the backs of those who don't know any better.

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  12. "Taxes should be fairly shared by all citizens, who share equally in the blessings of democracy."

    Guess where I found this...

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  13. "‘Implement universal health care, so that the rich Americans can pay for my hospital bills!’"

    David, I think you have seriously misunderstood our reasons for wanting a single-payer health insurance system. You imply from your sarcasm that Cory doesn’t want to have to pay for health insurance himself, so he would like to sock it to all those rich people and make them pay for our health care. I assure you, we are responsibly paying for our health insurance and hospital bills. However, the only insurance coverage we can afford is a $5,250 family deductible plan (which we just had to increase to a $7,500 deductible, because our premiums increased by over 25%). Because this plan does not include any maternity, labor, or delivery coverage, we had a total out-of-pocket expense of over $12,000 for our daughter’s birth (my prenatal care, the labor and delivery, and treatment for the pneumonia she was born with). That’s over $7,000 for all the prenatal care, labor and delivery (for a completely healthy pregnancy—childbirth is pretty expensive), none of which counts toward our deductible, plus $5,250 of daughter’s treatment in order to meet the deductible. We’ve already paid a big chunk of our bill and are chipping away at the remainder at the rate of $300 per month. On a teacher’s salary and a work-at-home-mother’s pay.

    I tell you this to help explain how difficult it is for people in our income bracket to pay for health insurance and medical expenses. At the rate health insurance costs are increasing, we fear insurance will become too expensive for us to afford it at all. A single-payer system would immensely help people like us who, through no irresponsibility on our part, simply may not be able to afford health care for ourselves or our children.

    So, please don’t patronize Cory and imply that his motives are simply to get someone rich to pay for the health insurance he isn’t willing to pay for himself. Both of us are incredibly hard-working, responsible people. We believe that a single-payer system would provide better health coverage to more people than does our current system.

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  14. CAH
    "to do those things the free market is unable to do." This should be spoken at the beginning of every day in session by congress. I think you misapply it though by expecting government to ensure that the cost of somebodies behavior is limited to that person. Yes the free market does not do that effectively, however I don't see that you have supported the assumption that it needs to be done.

    I agree size has its effects on organizations, some beneficial and some a burden. A company builds itself up and grows and becomes an ocean liner which eventually gets sunk by nimbler craft with innovative ideas. Bankruptcy is the economic thinning of the herd, let Jet Blue and Southeast take the place of the dinosaurs and elderly Wilderbeast.
    More to your point: you distrust size at your peril, there are pleanty of "Mom and Pop Shops" that will rob you blind given the chance.

    If the wireless tax waiver is passed and verizon doesn't have any serious competition then vote no, if there is competition that would benefit by lowering their prices, then verizon will also lower their prices and you should vote yes. Personally, I'd like to know why they were taxed in the first place.

    Selling cigarettes should be banned and smokers denied Medicare/Medicaid. If they don't have insurance or money of their own. oops. bye bye. This seems the most responsible and preserves people's freedom the most. I absolutely abhore these arrogant city laws than ban people from allowing smoking in their own business.

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  15. Phaedrus: "...[Y]ou distrust size at your peril, there are pleanty of 'Mom and Pop Shops' that will rob you blind given the chance."

    Fear not: I recognize that small business owners are as capable of sin as the Kenneth Lays of the world. I've had my share of shoddy work at the hands of small local operations as well. The difference is that when the owners of a mom-and-pop shop screw up or screw me, I can make my expressions of dissatisfaction much more directly to the people responsible and to the other consumers of that mom-and-pop shop. "Mom and Pop" have much less power to wield in carrying out their selfish sins against me, and what power they do have I can more easily check. When a big company screws up (like Qwest, which occasionally tosses mysterious charges for unused services on my phone bill, or Insurers Administration Corporation, our health insurance provider, which has committed dozens of billing errors since our daughters birth seven months ago), the perpetrators are insulated from my efforts to make them take responsibiliy for their actions by phone lackeys, forms, and other thick clouds of bureaucracy.

    Everyone is capable of sinning. Sinful big corporations that sin have much more power to harm many more people than sinful small local businesses. I thus cast an even more wary eye toward the big corporations.

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  16. "So, please don’t patronize Cory and imply that his motives are simply to get someone rich to pay for the health insurance he isn’t willing to pay for himself. Both of us are incredibly hard-working, responsible people."

    Hi Erin,

    My apologies if the tone wasn't communicated correctly. It's no rose garden at our house either... I'm pretty sure that Melita and I are in the same tax bracket (if anything we are in the one below yours...), and currently go without health insurance. Were contraceptives to fail (or any kind of ghastly injury or disease fall upon us)... it's most likely bankruptcy.

    My point wasn't to be patronizing, but to provoke a response about what is at the heart of Cory (and your) political philosophy... a question that has been dodged 3 times now in this thread (and several other times in other emails, etc.). What is the justification for these political beliefs? I completely agree that you and Cory are hard-working and responsible people. You guys are two of my closest friends; I have high respect and enjoy your company immensely. But in all these discussions about health care (and taxes, now, too), I haven't been able to discern any political motivation besides what Cory perceives to be in his personal best interest. (Well, except for his voter guide's opinion on video lottery, where he thought that tax liability should be shared equally.)

    Please correct me on this. Tell me what are the values you advocate for our government... and how these issues square with those beliefs.

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  17. David,

    Thanks for your response. Sorry for the delay for mine. My week has gotten away from me.

    Here’s an extremely abbreviated version of the political/economic justification for a Canadian-style single-payer health insurance system.
    A. In the Adam Smith sense, part of the function of government is to take care of those things that the free market cannot adequately supply (things, of course, that are deemed necessary for the running of a society). The administration of health care is not best left up to the free market. If we have a large percentage of our population uninsured and unable to afford adequate health care, the free market is not working sufficiently.
    B. From YES Magazine: “Health care is a public good. Like fire or police protection, universal coverage benefits each one of us and society as a whole.” (http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1516) Health care is not like other consumer products. Obtaining health care should not be like shopping for a DVD player or a boat.
    C. Universal health coverage is beneficial to democracy. People who do not have to neglect treating illness, disorders, etc. and who do not have to face bankruptcy because of unmanageable health care costs are more likely to have the time and energy to be active participants in their government and their communities (not to mention their families).

    Also, personal best interest as a political motivation is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re people who identify with the needs of others in society, who seek to understand their issues, then personal best interest can be a desire for the best interest of a much larger segment of the population than merely ourselves.

    We would love to discuss these points more with you and Melita in person (over dinner soon, perhaps??). We do, afterall, immensely enjoy your company, too! Plus, we’d really like to know more about Melita’s ventures into creating art!

    --Erin

    P.S. See http://www.yesmagazine.org/default.asp?ID=189 for much more worthwhile material for this discussion.

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  18. Universal Healthcare like every other kind of socialism saps the strength of innovation. There is no drive to improve such a system and it stagnates. Bread was 'universaly available' in the Soviet system as well. No hunger there ever right? Since it would be complete insanity for a government to try to provide the absolute best in medical technology and new therapy to every citizen - instant bankruptcy, what the people end up getting is the affordable mediocre medical treatment that won't stress the system.
    It is only by opening it up to capitalism and the free market that the best things become available at all, and then those things eventually become cheaper and everyone benefits.

    You are right when you say that democracy and the public good benefit by better health. You are wrong in thinking that can be achieved by declaring healthcare a universal right. It is the same as pretending that poverty could be eliminated if we took everyones money away and gave it back to everyone equally: causing productivity and economic growth to completely disintergrate. Canada's best doctors go the same place their best actors go. There's a very good reason for that.

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  19. 1. Note that I am not terribly uptight about keeping the discussion on the original topic. I wish universal health care were on the South Dakota ballot. South Dakota may lack the population necessary to create a statewide risk pool... although we already have the high-risk pool sponsored by the state to serve those good citizens whom the free market refuses to serve, so maybe we could cover everyone.

    2. Phaedrus raises the red flag on declaring health care a right. Erin and I don't have to go that far. We can look at the matter purely in pragmatic terms. The private system isn't doing what Phaedrus says it should. Where are the absolute best technologies and therapies that the free market should be making cheaper and available to everyone? Health care costs are going up much faster than inflation. Fewer and fewer people can afford basic health care (like pre-natal check-ups, well-baby doctor visits, etc.). What good are the "absolute best" medical technologies and therapies if they drive families into bankruptcy even when they seek basic care for medical emergencies? Maybe "affordable mediocre medical treatment that won't stress the system" wouldn't be so bad.

    By the way, Phaedrus makes analogies to the bread shortages in the Soviet Union. Why not make a better analogy, directly to the Soviet Union's universal health care system? Russians had better access to health care and better health outcomes under the Soviet system than they do under today's mafia-capitalism.

    Phaedrus's analogy to the failure of food distribution in the USSR misses the point. Food distribution under the free market system works because we can make genuine free market choices. We have the time to decide which loaf of bread we want for supper, which bakery we want to buy from, or even whether we want to bake it ourselves. I can get all the information I need about bread costs and bread options from the bakery ads in the paper and by trying the bread from different bakeries each week to decide which bread best serves my needs. I don't need a complex insurance policy to obtain bread (and I don't get charged extra if I walk into a bakery to buy bread out-of-pocket). Take the preceding four sentences, try substituting "health care" for "bread" and "hospital" for "bakery," and you'll see the failure of Phaedrus's faith in the free market to provide health care.

    Hospital patients cannot get the time or information they need to make genuine free market decisions about their health care. The doctors and nurses administering the care cannot tell the patient how much the shots and pills and procedures they are offering cost. When a man stumbles into the ER on a Saturday night with an appendicitis, the only people who can tell him how much the procedure will cost, the business office staff, are all at home sleeping and won't be in until Monday morning. South Dakota passes a law requiring hospitals to post their charges, but we only get a list of median charges for up to 25 most common general procedures, with no practical breakdown of specific charges within each procedure that a patient might reasonably be able to minimize through wise choices (assuming the patient is not unconscious, in labor, vomiting blood, terrified of dying, or experiencing some other distraction that might hamper her or his responsible free-market decision-making). The free market cannot work in a situation where real choice and information are not available.

    I love the free market. I wish it worked all the time. But it doesn't. And when it doesn't, Adam Smith says government needs to step in and get the job done. Health care does not allow genuine free market decision-making. The free market is pricing more and more people out of health care. Universal health care might not get us the best erectile-dysfunction treatments, but it would get shots and check-ups to everyone who wants them and stop half of all bankruptcies to boot. When the free market can lower my health insurance premiums -- or heck, just limit the premium increases to the rate of my wage increases -- give me a call. Until then, I vote for universal health care, not because it's a right, but because it gets the job done better.

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