Necessary Distinctions

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this blog criticizing corporate interests–Big Oil, the Kochs, all the mega-corporations evading taxes by any means arguably lawful, and others of that ilk. But a recent story reminded me that markets often exert powerful pressure for good, and not just because competition tends to drive down prices and make goods and services affordable. The vast majority of businesses operate in competitive markets that reward good behavior as well as low prices.

A good example is the fight for equal rights for GLBT citizens. Business has been in the forefront of that fight.

The link in the first paragraph is to an article about Chik-fil-A, which is furiously backpedaling from the anti-gay remarks made last year by its founder and CEO. While it would be nice if that retreat was the result of some sort of moral epiphany, the truth is that it has been forced by the realities of the market. (As one consultant recently wrote,  ”There are few more treacherous actions a CEO can take than to make derogatory comments about gay men and lesbians or to be publicly exposed for funding anti-gay causes.”)

Chick-fil-A’s socially conservative agenda, which formerly led the company to donate millions to charitable groups opposed to gay marriage, has been tempered. This, just as the company aims to quickly expand into Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Southern hospitality must give way to urban reality as the 1,800 store chain moves to compete with big city success stories like McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Chipotle.

Homophobia, racism, anti-Semetism and the like are bad for business. That lesson has been learned by hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, middle-managers and HR folks–and along the way, many of them have become true believers in the value of valuing diversity. Their advocacy, in turn, has moved the entire culture in a more inclusive direction.

For every asshole who is buying politicians and squirreling profits away in the Cayman Islands, there are twenty companies genuinely making America a better place–by treating GLBT people fairly, by becoming more environmentally conscious, by adopting local schools or supporting civic and charitable causes.

We need to rein in the bad actors, but we also need to appreciate the good guys. Even the guys who are only being good because that’s what the market rewards.

Rick Scott: All-Republican

I know that in sports, some players are “All Americans.” In Florida, Governor Rick Scott might be considered “All Republican.” He follows the script of today’s GOP (a party that bears little resemblance to the GOP I once knew and supported), but without the finesse that allows other Republican lawmakers to at least pretend they care about their constituents, and that their policies, however damaging, are based on good intentions.

Scott has been everything you’d expect from a sleaze who–before turning to electoral politics–admitt to 14 counts of Medicare fraud and paid the federal government more than $600 million dollars in fines.

A couple of days ago, the Tampa Bay Times issued a blistering critique of Scott, calling him the worst governor in Florida’s history. Titled “If He Only Had a Heart,” it’s well worth reading in its entirety, but I’ll just share the summary:

In Scott’s Florida, it is harder for citizens to vote and for the jobless to collect unemployment. It is easier for renters to be evicted and for borrowers to be charged high interest rates on short-term loans. It is harder for patients to win claims against doctors who hurt them and for consumers to get fair treatment from car dealers who deceive them. It is easier for businesses to avoid paying taxes, building roads and repairing environmental damage.

Scott may lack their talent to project a “kinder, gentler” facade, but there is an entire cohort of Republican governors operating from the same playbook.

Most, like Indiana’s governor, are much smoother, but the agenda is same.

I Love It When I Turn Out To Be Right…

Way back in 2000, I wrote a column listing all of the reasons the U.S. should reform health insurance. I was advocating adoption of single-payer (Medicare for All), and I still believe that would have been the simplest and most effective policy–but politics, as we all know, is the art of the possible, and single-payer wasn’t going to fly.

I had a long list of benefits I predicted would flow from universal access to healthcare. Down in the “and also” part of that list was the following:

Individuals would save money. Auto and homeowners insurance premiums would decline, because the underwriting would no longer need to take the costs of medical care into account.

Researchers are now investigating the actual costs and savings attributable to the Affordable Care Act (as opposed to the political talking points and hype). Rand has just issued one such study:

The Affordable Care Act may result in lower automobile insurance rates according to a study conducted by David Auerbach and colleagues at the RAND Corporation that was published on April 9, 2014.

Auto insurance providers pay for some or all medical injury claims that are sustained in automobile accidents in the United States depending on the terms of the policy. The dollar amounts involved are based on an analysis of the amounts that all U. S. auto insurance providers paid for automobile injuries in 2007. The total was $35 billion.

The entire cost of auto injury health care will be taken over by health insurance providers according to the terms of the Affordable Care Act.

I told you so.

 

Why Am I Not Surprised?

The Washington Post recently reported on a study conducted by political scientists Kyle Dropp (Dartmouth College) Joshua D. Kertzer (Harvard University) and  Thomas Zeitzoff  (Princeton University).

Here’s their description of the study.

On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

Here, in a nutshell (pun sort of intended), is the problem of our times: the loudest voices, the partisans arguing with the most certainty and the least nuance, belong to the people who know the least about the matter at hand.

What makes it even worse is that we elect so many of them.

Justice Stevens Weighs In

Retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens has a new book out in which he makes the case for six Amendments to the Constitution.

  1. The “Anti-Commandeering Rule” (Amend the Supremacy Clause of Article VI) This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges and other public officials. in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
  2. Political Gerrymandering – Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.
  3. Campaign Finance – Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.
  4. Sovereign Immunity – Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution.
  5. Death Penalty- (Amend the 8th Amendment) Excessive Bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.
  6. The Second Amendment – (Amend the 2nd Amendment) A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

Of course, the likelihood of passing any amendments in this politically polarized age is fanciful; lawmakers can’t even manage to pass what should be relatively noncontroversial legislation.

Nevertheless, these eminently rational suggestions provide plenty of food for thought.  Not to mention, an implicit condemnation of our unwillingness to come to terms with the realities of modern life.