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Tag Archives: Comparative Analysis

Why Obamacare Is Like A Government Smartphone

Engineering Thinking principle: comparative analysis

cellphonesWhen you make a decision to purchase an auto or a cell phone or a home, you have lots of choices, because you have a lot of companies competing for your business. You can compare features and prices — do a comparative analysis — and arrive at a rational decision of which is best for you. Of course, what is best for you may not be best for others, so having many options helps to ensure that most people can select a choice that best satisfies their particular needs and preferences. Comparative analysis leads to constructive competition.

However, when the federal government decides to set up a program such as Social Security, Medicare, or Obamacare, we have only one choice. This leaves us at a competitive disadvantage, since we will not be able to do a real-world comparative analysis of any other choice. This lack of competition not only restricts our freedom to choose, it allows to remain in place inefficient and even counterproductive programs, funded by the taxpayer whether the taxpayer likes it or not.

This is a major reason why the federal government’s activities should be restricted to essential national services, such as the military and foreign affairs. When the government gets involved in social services, the historical record indicates that the government’s approach, although it may seem compassionate and somewhat effective, is actually very inferior compared to free market alternatives, primarily because government is inherently inefficient (see “It’s Just A Systems Thing“).

In addition, the proponents of big government social programs never admit that their programs are deficient, no matter how poorly they perform; they always find something or someone to blame. (The Soviet Union routinely blamed “bad weather” for its abysmal economic performance during its almost 70 years of existence.) If Obamacare survives, this is why those who predict it will self-destruct are likely wrong: no matter how ridiculously bad it may be, the proponents of big government will find some excuse to keep the Frankensteinian monster alive. Without a competing program in place to prove the proponents wrong, the blame game will go on and on, just as occurred in the Soviet Union.

govtsmartphoneGovernment no-choice social programs are the equivalent of having a government smartphone plan, where your “choice” is limited to a single smartphone, designed and built by the government, available with only certain features, and at a fixed non-negotiable price. And you have to buy one whether you want it or not, or you will be fined or imprisoned.

For these reasons it is best to leave social services to the states, or even better to private charities, churches, and civic organizations (see “What Would Happen If The Government Didn’t Take Care Of Us?“). When alternatives exist, eventually those programs that perform better become known for their success, allowing them to flourish, while those that perform poorly by comparison become known for their failure, allowing them to die out, and be replaced by the more successful programs. More importantly, alternatives provide each individual citizen with the freedom and comparative knowledge to choose whatever is best for them.

-Ed Walker

 

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A Pernicious Logical Fallacy: Government “Investment”

By teaching us to avoid emotional blockages and logical fallacies,
Engineering Thinking helps us make optimum decisions.

Today’s Principle: Comparative Analysis
Quick Summary: Intuition tells us that a decision that creates a desirable outcome is the best decision. This is not necessarily correct. To ensure the best decision, alternatives must be considered.

A Pernicious Logical Fallacy: Government “Investment”

Is the investment really a gain, or could it be a loss?

One of the most pernicious fallacies is the idea that because money was “invested” (spent) by the government, and some benefits were purportedly achieved, the benefits prove the worth of such expenditures. For example, President George Bush said, “My administration has worked with Congress to invest in gas-saving technologies like advanced batteries and hydrogen fuel cells…” And more recently, President Obama has claimed that government investment is responsible for “…creating the Internet that allowed Microsoft and Google and Facebook to thrive.”

Assuming that these investments were worthwhile is a fallacy, because alternatives were not tried.

Claiming that government investments are good, without considering
alternatives, is like claiming a grade of D in school is good because
you never considered the possibility of anything better.

What would the outcome have been if the government did not spend those funds on the Internet or batteries or fuel cells? What if they had been spent elsewhere, or not spent at all? Because no alternatives were tried there is no basis for concluding that the investments were a success. Maybe some apparent good resulted, but it’s possible that even more good may have been achieved if the government had been completely uninvolved.

Because the government does not have competition, and typically does not set up alternative programs for comparison purposes, there is no way to know for sure whether or not a government expenditure was indeed wise. However, there is a way to make an educated guess: look at the track record.

The federal government has spent, and continues to spend, billions of taxpayer dollars on science and health research, space exploration, alternative energy, and many, many other endeavors. An investment, by definition, is supposed to provide a return. But have you, the taxpayer, ever received a check back from the IRS, for example, and been told that the investment of your tax dollars in NASA has resulted in a profit, and here’s your share?

Well then, how about indirect benefits? Has cancer been cured? Are there no more homeless on the streets? Have the ghettos been eradicated? Have our immigration problems been solved? Has the “War On Drugs” been a success? Have government-sponsored “green energy” technologies been successful?

Unfortunately, no.

By contrast, when decisions to spend money are made on a comparative basis, as in the private marketplace (e.g. you can spend your own money as you choose on Option A (Target) or Option B (Walmart)), then eventually you can decide which is the better choice. And if you donate your own dollars (or time) to¬† civic associations, churches, or charities, you can observe for yourself their effectiveness, and if they’re not effective, then you can donate your money and time elsewhere.

When you truly invest dollars in successful private companies, not only does society benefit from the goods and services they provide, you — as an investor — obtain an additional benefit (because of the risk you took in making the investment) by seeing an appreciation in the value of your stock, and oftentimes cash dividends as well.

Would you rather invest in the federal government (which is,
with proper accounting, bankrupt), or in Apple or Microsoft or Google?

Bottom Line: If a politician praises the benefits of a government expenditure, ask a simple question: what alternatives were evaluated? If the speaker does not know the answer (or does not even understand the question), then the speaker’s views are not worthy of your valuable time.

-Ed Walker

p.s. Politicians are prone to committing the fallacy described above, because they define success only as money spent, rather than the proper measurement, which is benefits obtained divided by money spent. For more, please see “An Essential Rule For Not Being A Fool.”

 

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