Friday, October 02, 2009

I am an American Conservative

My thanks to Wayside Chapel for providing the link I had lost to an amusing piece entitled "I am an American S***heel" that's been quoted now and again in the blogosphere since it first appeared some five years ago. I thought I'd post a version of it with some commentary included.

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. (Whose regulations have prevented the construction of any new nuclear powerplants for nearly forty years, ensuring that 75% of our electricity would come from burning fossil fuels, making us the second largest polluter on Earth) I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. (Whose pipes leak a quarter of what they pump, wasting precious clean water and energy, because it's easier to raise rates than fix it) After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels (One of the dozen-odd they permit per market, despite the fact that off the shelf technology would permit there to be hundreds of broadcast and thousands of narrowcast channels per market- must be a limit to how much freedom of the press we're allowed) to see what the national weather service of the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the national aeronautics and space administration. (Who, by next year, will be out of the manned spaceflight business because they couldn't plan ahead for the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet. Despite spending only $5.7 billion out of their $18 billion dollar budget on manned spaceflight, they couldn't find the extra $3.5 billion they needed to keep their core mission functioning... by the way, did you know NASA dollars are spent in all 50 states, and all 435 Congressional districts? That's the way you keep your funding!) I watched this while eating my breakfast of US department of agriculture inspected food (Assuming it wasn't on one of the regular recall lists because yet another E-coli contamination slipped through the cracks) and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the food and drug administration. (Like thalidomide, the anti-nausea drug that caused all those birth defects... while the most effective of the anti-nausea drugs, the one cancer patients need, medical marijuana, is banned so strongly that they're preventing states from legalizing it on their own)

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile (That the government required explosive devices be installed in, which hopefully will be contained by the airbag before it blows your face off- though occasionally they fail to do so. The government claims you need explosives so powerful that possession of them outside your automobile would get your arrested for terrorism to be safe, despite the fact that we regularly see racecars slam into brick walls at 250MPH without airbags and without fatalities.) and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, (Which are maintained so inefficiently by local governments that here in Indiana, we leased a major toll road to a private company, who is maintaining it at a profit cheaper than the government did as a service) possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, (Using standards created by Rockefeller, who became a millionaire by producing oil of uniform standards) using legal tender issued by the federal reserve bank. (Which receives criticism from both the right and the left because it's too independent, not answering directly to elected officials- many claim it's actually unconstitutional because of that) On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service (The only delivery service in the country to routinely run at a deficit- $7 billion last year- despite having a total monopoly on first class mail) and drop the kids off at the public school. (Which here in Indiana, recently got into trouble for using creative numbers to disguise the fact that less than 30% of its students were graduating high school, despite spending more, on a per student basis, than elite private schools)

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, (Lucky guy; hundreds of house burn every year because not one state in the union requires sprinklers or any other active fire suppression system in private homes, despite that being century-old technology. Many lives are lost because they do not require fire escapes on multilevel homes, either; we bought a roll up ladder that can be lowered from the window) and which has not been plundered of all it's valuables thanks to the local police department. (Lucky guy again; care to see some burglary statistics?)

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration (An advanced version of the BBS system, which had been run by nerds from their homes since 1978 until the internet ran them out of business in the late nineties) and post on and Fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.


Chalicechick said...

Yes, the government isn't perfect, but I'm not sure why any reasonable person would expect it to be.

Frankly, if anything, I think your additions help make the point original author was trying to make--that the government does pretty good job most of the time and the conservatives who get on the internet and complain and about how terrible the government is are being unreasonable.

I mean come on, thalidomide? That example is 50 years old. Secondly, countries around the world had problems with thalidomide so it's not like somebody else's government would have done any better. Thirdly, the FDA learned from that and changed its drug approval process around, which is why nothing like that has happened in 50 years.*

A lot of your examples are oversimiplified or misleading (the post office does run at a defecit some years, but hasn't taken federal money since the 1980s) but even if they weren't, the fact remains that nobody is expecting nationalized health care not to have problems. They are expecting nationalized healthcare be better than the alternative, and in nearly every example where you bring up a complaint, the flawed system that exists is better than no system at all.

I agree with your criticisms in some places, but still, if anything, I think you've made the author's point even more convincing.


*And your anti-nausea suggestion, marijuana, ALSO causes birth defects.

Joel Monka said...

"and in nearly every example where you bring up a complaint, the flawed system that exists is better than no system at all."

True. But two points: first, that systems do develop absent government action. I mentioned Standard Oil to show that; in the bad old days, kerosene fueled stoves, lamps, and other machines often wouldn't work right- sometimes even blew up- when you changed from one oil to another... the viscosity, specific gravity, volatility, octane, and just about every other measurable factor would vary from bottle to bottle within the same brand, let alone between brands. The government didn't act- Rockefeller did. Standard Oil made every can, every barrel as close to identical as humanly possible, allowing engineers to make safe, reliable consumer products. There are many, many other examples.

Second point: government regulations often do little but enshrine standards and conditions favorable to the lobbyist with the deepest pockets. Building codes- you could build a house out of solid milled titanium, but it wouldn't be considered safe by the government unless it had a wooden stud every twenty four inches. Fitted masonry without mortar (like Lego) is deemed unsafe for human habitation- despite the fact that the pyramids were built that way, and have stood for a reasonable length of time. Similar tales for every other new development. Do the building codes guarantee a safe home? Yes- but they also guarantee that home will be built with materials and techniques little changed from the Victorian era, ensuring that the home will be far more expensive, less functional, and less energy efficient than it could be. Could the laws be changed? Yes- on the day you have more money to donate than the construction unions and manufacturers.

The same principle holds true for the way the government controls licensed professions. My father was a radio engineer, working on 50,000 watt stations when I was a kid- during WWII, he was involved in classified Navy radar and microwave work... but he was not legally competent to wire a house because he hadn't gone through a union study course. I can call myself a sex therapist and open an office if I wish; but if I gave you a haircut without graduating from college and being examined by the state, I'm breaking the law- beauty salons have much more clout than sex therapists. There have been a number of cases throughout the nation of that second example- here in Indiana, an African immigrant who braided and corn-rowed hair had police come to her house and shut her down after a beauty salon complained. A local talk show had someone from the state on defending the action, explaining that beauticians work with chemicals and so must be licensed college grads. When the host pointed out that this woman didn't work with chemicals, she only braided hair, the reply was "You can't make exceptions".

Does private industry behave the same way? Of course they do! But private industry, in the end, must always bow to the government. Even Bill Gates must accept the court's decision, or men with guns will come for him. But government actions are enshrined in law; the lowliest bureaucrat speaks with the power and authority of the government, and anything he does- up to and including murder, as prosecutors in Idaho found out- is protected by "sovereign immunity". Both government and industry do many- most- of the things they do well; both make mistakes. When it comes to my healthcare, I don't want the one making the mistake to have sovereign immunity.

P.S.- yes, marijuana does cause birth defects- but not at the dosages recommended for nausea relief. Thalidomide also only causes birth defects under certain conditions- when taken during certain weeks of pregnancy... so obviously, it must be withheld from 60 year old male cancer patients. Neither drug is being handled sensibly- which is kinda the point.