Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sick in Buenos Aires

I sit in my bedroom, suffering mildly with strep throat, waiting for the amoxicillin, my immune system, or some sort of magic that emanates from the southern sky to heal me. On Saturday I started to feel sick. Sunday night I took a bus across the city to a milonga where I danced but 2 tandas before realizing I had no energy, only to find that I didn't have enough cash to pay for a pizza I had ordered. Monday night, I finally decided to walk through the downpour to the Italian Hospital.

And it was the easiest, most comfortable experience that I have ever had at a medical facility. And I don't speak their language - well.

First, on a national holiday the regular clinic was open at 7:30 PM. They asked me 3 questions: What is your name? Have you been here before? And what seems to be the trouble? Then the woman took great care to inform me that because I have no insurance and because this is a private hospital, I would have to pay 82 pesos (about 23 USD). I would have kissed her except she would then acquire my strep.

There were no forms to fill out, they did not care where I live, or who I work for, or who my primary and secondary provider are. They did not want to know if my great-grandfather had diabetes. They did not waste time by putting me on a scale.

I went to a hospital in the U.S. 2 days before leaving for BsAs. I was there for an immunization shot; the appointment was pre-arranged and specific. They measured my height and weight, my blood pressure, and my temperature. Meanwhile, people sat in the waiting room.

After paying 80 pesos (They don't make change well in Argentina, so paying 100 pesos for an 82 peso bill often yields 20 in change.), I waited about 12 minutes, saw the doctor and left. Down the street to the pharmacy, and soon I was back in bed.

I contrast this with an experience I had a few years back in Seattle. I was dating a wonderful woman who happened to be sick with strep throat. She didn't have insurance or a lot of money. So I called around to find a doctor. No one would give me any reasonable detail about how much a visit would cost. Finally I spoke with a woman at Harborview and, after I explained the basic situation to her she said, "Look, if you come here you may have to wait awhile but it is essentially free healthcare." Once there, my friend had to fill out a pile of forms, including what appeared to be a sworn affidavit about every detail of her personal finances. And yes we waited many hours for her to be seen.

She came out of the consultation in a chipper mood. "Yep, strep throat, he gave me penicillin and a pain killer. The doctor was so nice," she said, "He said he didn't really need a throat culture, but he did it anyway."

I stopped in my tracks. "You know they are going to charge you for that." I said. That didn't bother her at the time. A few weeks later the bill came - and it measured in the hundreds of dollars, including a charge for a superfluous throat culture.

That health care wasn't so "essentially free" after all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This... is War

President Barack Obama says he's "shocked and deeply saddened" by news that a U.S. soldier opened fire at a counseling center in Iraq, killing five fellow soldiers.

I hope Mr. Obama is saddened; I have serious doubts that he gives a damn.

As for shock, a man who is shocked at such an event has no business being Commander-in-Chief of U.S. forces.

War is accumulated evil. It contains within itself every form of evil that exists in the world. When we vote for it, we get it all. It is impossible to separate the rape, murder of innocents, suicides, depression, plundering of villages, torture, etc. from the killing of so-called bad guys.

Is Barack shocked and saddened that his near-daily bombings of Pakistan, a war as yet only tacitly approved by the American populace, have killed hundreds of schoolchildren and other non-combatants. Is he saddened by the deaths of thousands of Afghanis; is he shocked by the complete lack of any strategic victory in EIGHT YEARS of war? Does he frown when he thinks about the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis or the millions whose lives have been destroyed as a direct result of the U.S. military adventure.

Had Obama followed through on his primary campaign promise - “There is no military solution in Iraq and there never was. I will begin to remove our troops from Iraq immediately.” - this event that shocked him probably would not have happened.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley Capital Raises are Failure

Last week, Wells Fargo sold $8.6 billion in common stock; Morgan Stanley sold $8 billion in stock and senior notes.

I don't mean that those two banks failed in this case. Far from it. But this is a failure for our society. A failure to do something that a free market can do effectively without even trying.

The point here is that these investors are not turning their money over to the banks because they believe in their business model; they are doing it because they believe the taxpayer will bear some, most, or all of the risk.

By propping up these broken institutions, the government is directing scarce resources away from productive endeavors.

With Bush and Obama leading the charge, the Wall St./government cabal has somehow convinced us that we need these banks for capitalism to work.

Obama and others say the banking system is "the lifeblood of our economy."

It just aint so, and we should all be thanking our maker for that fact.

The truth is that the banking system lies pretty low on the list of essential components of free-market capitalism. Certainly creativity, human productivity, entrepreneurship, and good-old trial-and-error rank high above it.

A banking system is necessary. Its function is simple: take excess resources from savers* and distribute it to competent investors*. Our system has failed to do that effectively and its natural fate is to collapse and die. Once that happens a new banking system will rise up to replace it. Until then, we stifle the attributes of our economy that make it work.

The bailout, prop-up path is doomed to fail. There is no other possible conclusion.

Furthermore, all those bankers who have been fired or are about to be may well be fantastic architects, musicians, store managers, and vacuum cleaner repairmen; they are not good bankers.

*Savers are people who do not consume all of their production. Investment is addition to the stock of real capital.