Understanding Economics

A Perfect Grasp, and for Free

July 4, 2012

Today I'm going to explain economics, society, and the pursuit of happiness, if any. Either pursuit or happiness. When I'm through, there won't be any questions left. You will know everything. Whole university departments will shutter their doors. And good riddance.

A friend of mine is ardent of capitalism, also called “free enterprise” if you are trying to sell it to the rubes, or “codified robbery” by those familiar with its workings. Anyway, this friend had an actual degree in economic theory. He said things like “commoditized debenture yields” and “mezzanine tranche bundles” and “annualized perturbity swaps.” I was so impressed I almost gave him my wallet right there.

I've got nothing against speaking in tongues, but some of it was too many for me. For example, he kept saying that businesses didn't want the government to interfere with them, which he called “distorting the market.” Well, I can understand it. I don't want the government interfering with me either, especially in the midst of a burglary. But I was puzzled. If businessmen didn't want the government interfering in the market, I asked, why did they send thousands of lobbyists to Washington to make the government interfere in the market? He changed the subject. I guess he was distracted.

Of course, as Milton Friedman said, “There's no such thing as a free market.” (That may not be exactly what he said. It's what he would have said had he understood economics better.) I think Milton was right. I mean, as soon as capitalists start making money, they buy the government, and engage in carnal intercourse with it, and pretty soon the chiefs of corporations are in government, and great motingator alpha-crats of government get on corporate boards, and form the roaring mother of interlocking directorates, and so you get Enron and the sub-primes and nobody's got a house. The freer the market, the quicker it happens. A lack of laws favors the smart, the avaricious, and the remorseless. (I live in Mexico.)

Ronald Reagan, an amiable goof but not the Killer Kowalski of intellect, said of the free market (I think it was he) that “a rising tide floats all boats.” Thing is, I keep reading that the rich are getting lots richer, and the middle class, what is left of it, is getting poorer. I guess they don't have boats. Maybe we need a federal program. Maybe No Boat Left Behind.

It's confusing. Conservatives say that it's wrong to take money from those who produce and give it to those who don't. Then they take money from those who produce and give it, great bags of it, to the military, which never earned a nickel and produces nothing but corpses and amputees. It looks to me like a choice between welfare queens, colonels or indigent mothers. I prefer the kind that wants free cheeseburgers, but that's just me I guess.

Which brings us, panting, to Obamacare. It probably won't work, because the government can't do anything right, and the private sector will steal the government blind. Anyway, conservatives don't like the idea of national health care. They pass around the internet stories about some woman in Canada who had to give herself a C-section with a chain saw because there weren't any doctors.

Well, maybe. Or maybe when you underfund national health care, probably because of bribes from the chainsaw manufacturers, you get too few doctors. Anyhow, when they start in on how awful national health care is, I always want to say, “Yes, no doubt. My faith in you is without limit. But, just out of curiosity you understand, can you name two hospitals in France? Give me any three facts about health care in Japan? A brief comparison of medicine in Denmark and Finland? In short, do you have the slightest idea of what you are talking about?”

But I don’t ask. It would be like poisoning goldfish.

Now, America has two examples of socialized medical care, the VA system and the military system. Since it would be intelligent to examine these to see how well they work, nobody does. The VA hospitals ain't great, being over-affirmative-actioned and under-funded, since the Pentagon has more enthusiasm for making new cripples than caring for old ones.

The military system is another thing. The first question you are asked in a military hospital is, “What is wrong with you?” instead of “How are you going to pay for this?” Because the doctors are on salary, they don't gouge. Nor do they refuse to treat you because of the mounds of stupid federal paperwork required for things like Medicare. Nor in the military system do insurance companies hunt, like starving ferrets on the trail of a mouse, for reasons not to pay. While insurance companies won't pay claims if they can help it, they will assuredly pay Congress not to ask awkward questions, so no comparisons with the military hospitals will be made.

The military system works, God help us. You show your ID card, they fix you. You need something expensive? You get it. You don’t need a pricey scan to pay for the new seventy-five-button, six-hundred brake horsepower MRI machine? You don’t get it. When I last covered the military, which is an already-functioning, easily studied system that works under American cultural conditions, it was competitive cost-wise with the private sector. Let us avert our eyes.

Next, why do the cognitively challenged say that Obama is a socialist? The man is an arch-conservative. (I'm not sure what arches have to do with it, but never mind.) He bailed out Wall Street, the beating heart of predatory capitalism, and then carefully didn’t prosecute those who masterminded the sub-prime scan. Socialists hate Wall Street. Obama breast-feeds it. And he sends the military to bomb every country he has heard of, which is very conservative. He is ideally qualified to be president of Guatemala.

Whew. Now a final gem of crystalline truth before I turn to things of greater cosmic import, such as listening to Bob Dylan with Vi. Conservatives and capitalists (What’s the difference? All conservatives are capitalists, and all capitalists are conservatives) say they like competition. Bracing stuff, it is, not like lazy old socialism.

Actually they like competition as long as they are winning, and and when they aren't they want the government to buy their stuff. Why do you think America has such a rocking arms industry? Easy: Because the arms companies can’t make it in a truly competitive world. For example, Lockheed gave up the manufacture of civilian airliners to be a martial kept woman of the Pentagon. Arms manufacturers don’t have to compete with Samsung and Daewoo, which would probably make Pentagonal toys for a third the price. Don’t think so? Make the experiment.

Yes, yes, I know. This tirade is for naught. The arms makers will continue giving oral satisfaction to the withering udder of the Great Federal Cow with the ardor of a lonely sheep herder. Bohica. (That was an ageist, ttwo-animal bovine-antaomical metaphor with sexual reference. Patent applied for.) But I subscribe to the principle that a leper is happiest when he understands why his fingers are falling off.