Tue, 20 Mar 2007

Pros and Cons of US and French Health Care Systems

Here's a homework assignment I had to do for Comparative Economic Systems. The reading assignment was Paul Dutton's Health Care in France and the United States: Learning from Each Other.

Pros and Cons of US and French Health Care Systems

The US health care system is criticized for lack of universal health insurance coverage in comparison to the French system. Because French insurance is essentially compulsory, health care costs are more broadly distributed amongst the entire population. Although laws in the US that mandate certain types of medical care be provided to uninsured (and otherwise non-paying) patients raise medical costs for the insured, these higher medical costs are borne by those others seeking medical care rather than society at large. Except for the case of highly communicable diseases, the treatment of which provides a large social benefit, this is arguably a more just outcome.

In both the US and France, patients have a number of choices in seeking medical care. In France, patients can generally get treatment from a specialist directly, whereas in the US, the growth of HMO's means that many patients must get the approval of a "primary care physician" before seeking specialized treatment. This latter system can be frustrating to patients, but may also conserve the resources of more costly medical care when the primary care physician deems it unnecessary. Patients in the US have the option of purchasing PPO insurance, which has either a higher premium or deductible, but which provides the patient with the option of seeking specialists' treatment directly. Even under an HMO, the threat of lawsuit means that all but the most trivial concerns would likely be approved for specialist review.

Differences in malpractice awards, and thus insurance premiums, contribute to widely divergent costs for medical care in the two countries. Although per capita medical spending in the US is twice that of France's, only a portion of the difference goes towards malpractice insurance and repaying debt incurred in medical school, the bill for which is footed by the government in France. Doctors enjoy much higher salaries in the US. Medical care providers have much more leeway to negotiate fee schedules with US insurance companies than their French counterparts whose negotiations occur between physician associations and the quasi-public insurance funds.

Doctors in the US may also profit from increased productivity through the use of technology when compared to French physicians. On the other hand, standardization of billing processes in France does reduce billing costs. Health care providers in either country which can both standardize and automate administrative tasks should profit by doing so.

Both the US and French health care systems suffer high costs associated from the use of "insurance" for routine medical care in which the primary beneficiary does not bear the full cost of services. Regulation also prevents insurance providers from properly pooling policies by risk group, raising insurance premiums overall. Health care systems in general would benefit from decreased regulation and a move towards a system in which insurance returns to a role of providing for contingent, devastating medical emergencies among groups for which the likelihood of such events is approximately equal.

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Mon, 10 Jul 2006

Free Markets and Free Beer (IHS Summer Seminar)

I spent last week at Georgia Tech in Atlanta attending a seminar put on by the Institute for Humane Studies. Although the title of the seminar was Ideas & Entrepreneurs, the focus was more generally classical liberal/libertarian thought. The lectures on public choice theory and political science by Georg Vanberg and law by John Hasnas were particularly interesting. If you have the opportunity to take courses with either of them, I'm sure they would be fantastic.

For any students interested in free markets, individual rights, limited government, etc., I highly recommend attending an IHS seminar. They brought together a great group of young, thoughtful people. They also provide free beer at a social every evening.

I gave a short presentation on inflation during a student panels session at the seminar. We were quite constrained on time so I had to rush through a lot of information, but I think I did fairly well considering the circumstances.

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Mon, 10 Apr 2006

On Illegal Immigration

Immigration, and illegal immigration in particular, is a hot topic in the US Congress and among the population in general. Mark Trahant, in an editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, argues that immigration to the United States is nothing new, and that the same issues which the country now faces have endured since the founding of the country. These concerns are: the failure of new immigrants to assimilate; the fact the new immigrants are entering the country illegally; and that Americans' jobs are at risk because of immigration.

Although there are parallels to the past, it is undeniable that immigration is now out of control in this country. Ninety percent of Americans consider illegal immigration to be a problem.

These immigrants are bringing their foreign culture with them. The immigrants that come from Mexico and Central America have two to three times the number of children as native Americans. These children must then be educated at taxpayer expense. The US cannot afford to feed and educate the world's destitute masses. We must stop illegal immigration now. If we keep the current immigration policies in place or further expand the decriminalization of illegal immigration by granting amnesty to those who have already entered the country illegally, the US economy will deteriorate until it reaches parity with Mexico's.

In addition to the economic war US taxpayers are fighting against the onslaught of illegal aliens, the United States is currently engaged in a war on terror. Mexico may claim to be an ally of the US, but the lack of Mexican troops in Iraq shows that Mexican values are clearly not aligned with America's. Can we really afford to let our enemies into our country?

Just as during the period following World War I, we must again stand vigilant against those that wish to enter our country illegally. Those that spit in the face of the laws of our sovereign nation must be treated like the criminals they are. If one enters this country by trespass, they are criminals by definition. With no respect for the law, they will surely have no qualms about dealing drugs to our children and mugging our elderly.

It has been argued that the immigrants come here to do the work that Americans will not do. In Los Angeles, move than 30% of students drop out of high school. Certainly, these uneducated natives will do the low-skilled work that it is claimed only foreigners will do. These Americans need to have jobs to support their families. How will they be able to survive with immigrants taking their jobs and driving down the wages in those few jobs Americans do find?

Globalization may be improving the standard of living for the world's poor, but we must not allow it to do so at the expense of good, honest Americans.

The above essay is an assignment for my philosophy class in which I am supposed to use only bad arguments. I tried to avoid good arguments while, at the same time, not letting my bad arguments become too absurd. Try to find the following common fallacies of reasoning:

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Thu, 09 Mar 2006

Cheating with Turnitin.com

Turnitin.com is a service schools can use to detect plagiarism. Students submit their papers to turnitin.com, in MS Word format, I guess, and it analyses the text for plagiarism. Here's how the company describes it:

The industry's most advanced search technology that checks papers against our in-house copies of both current and archived internet content and our proprietary database of millions of previously submitted student papers.

My Economics professor told us an amusing story this morning about turnitin.com. She is on a committee that was evaluating using the service. Going through a demo of the service while on the phone with a rep from the company, she asked what happens if the student hides nonsensical characters within the text by replacing whitespace with characters in a white font. She went ahead and tried it with the sample plagiarized poem the company provided. Lo and behold, the poem was reported as not being plagiarized. Despite one professor's continued desire to use this $5,000 service, the committee opted not to.

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Sun, 19 Feb 2006

The "Problem" of Evil

During my first Critical Thinking class, the the professor assigned a paper on the problem of evil. Here's how Wikipedia describes the problem of evil:

The problem of evil assumes that God is both benevolent and omnipotent. One formulation of the problem of evil may be schematized as follows:
  1. If God exists, then there would be no evil in the world.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Our assignment was to come up with an argument against the problem of evil. It was definitely a good way to dive into the course. I spent a lot of time thinking about the problem and reading up on arguments that others had come up with.

I think I did a decent job considering the minimal amount of instruction we received prior to the assignment and my rusty essay-writing skills.

Christian G. Warden

Word Count: 1058

In Evil and Omnipotence, J. L. Mackie summarizes the problem of evil to show that the theist's belief in the existence of God is irrational. Not only is reason unable to prove the existence of God, but the beliefs of the theist are in direct conflict with each other.

The problem of evil argues that, because of the nature of God and the existence of evil, God cannot exist. The main beliefs regarding God with respect to the problem of evil are that God is omnipotent and omni-benevolent. Though not explicitly stated by Mackie, it is generally accepted that God's omnipotence subsumes his omniscience; that is, there are no situations over which God could not have control due to his ignorance thereof. The conflict arises because, in spite of God's all-powerful and all-good nature, evil exists.

If God were omnipotent and omni-benevolent, he would prevent evil from occurring. Therefore, accepting the premise that evil does exist, either God does not exist, or God is either not as good or not as powerful as is commonly held.

Mackie points out that the problem of evil is only a problem for people who believe that God exists, and that God is omnipotent and omni-benevolent. No such problem exists in the minds of brights (those with a naturalistic view of the world), polytheists who believe in gods with conflicting goals, nor monotheists who believe in a god which has limits to its power, knowledge, or goodness. For example, consider the following argument regarding a different supernatural being, the Flying Spaghetti Monster1:

  1. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) exists, everyone would be a pirate.

  2. Everyone is not a pirate.

  3. The FSM does not exist.

Few objections would be raised to the conclusion above because, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins2, we are all Flying Spaghetti Monster atheists; there is no "problem of pirates" commonly discussed among philosophers.

So, in attempting to rebut Mackie's argument, we must presume that God exists or, at least, that we have strong reason to believe that God exists.

We can concede that the premises of the problem of evil conflict without accepting that the conclusion is valid. If we accept that the God is great (omnipotent and omni-benevolent), it follows that God would not, and indeed could not, have created a world with evil. Furthermore, if the world God created were about to be subjected to evil, he would be able to and would be compelled to prevent it. That would mean that the second premise, that evil exists, must be false. The existence of evil seems self-evident, though. So how can we claim that evil does not exist?

We can think of evil as being relative to good. Every act by a human could conceivably be better (more good) or worse (more evil). Likewise, any natural act that affects mankind could be better for mankind or worse. There is no concrete distinction between an evil act and a good one. There can only be judgments made between the relative goodness of two acts or events.

When we say that God is all-good, that means infinitely good. If there is an infinite scale of goodness in our world and all possible worlds, there is always the possibility of more goodness, for infinite means that there are no bounds. So, the problem of evil could be similarly stated as the problem of imperfection:

  1. If God exists, the world would be perfectly good.

  2. The world is not perfectly good.

  3. God does not exist.

Stated this way, it seems more logical to accept that God is omni-benevolent despite the fact that we can find evidence in the world of imperfection.

If we consider good and evil not as a duality, but rather a scale of goodness, it becomes clear that the case for saying that evil exists is not quite as strong. Instead, it might be better stated that the best scenario does not always occur. But this is a necessary condition of a world in which goodness is infinite. For any event perpetrated or allowed to occur by God could always be upstaged by an even better one.

It is also possible that humans, not being omniscient, are unable to appreciate an apparently evil act in its full context. Because there are an unlimited number of events occurring in the world, and an unlimited number of interactions among natural events and living beings, both sentient and not, it is impossible to judge the totality of a single event's goodness. Often, different value judgments will be made upon an act viewed from different perspectives.

Consider the execution of a convicted murderer. The family of the murderer's victim might view the execution as the ultimate good act, while the murderer's family might view it as the most evil. Taking into account the values of the rest of society or humanity, the execution would be valued as somewhere in between the two extremes. The value of the act would be different still in the context of subsequent events that it influences.

While it seems all too easy to find evil in the world, upon further contemplation, such evil can easily be redefined in terms of its relative position on a scale of goodness. And although an argument against the problem of evil does not prove the existence of God, it demonstrates a method of reconciling a belief in God with the apparent evil that surrounds us.


Murray, Michael, "Leibniz on the Problem of Evil", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2005/entries/leibniz-evil/>.

Wikipedia Contributors, "Problem of evil", Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 7 February 2006, <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Problem_of_evil&oldid=38547800>.

Wikipedia Contributors, "Theodicy", Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 4 February 2006, <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theodicy&oldid=38081634>.

1 The Flying Spaghetti Monster is fictional god-like being invented in 2005 CE to parody the "Intelligent Design" advocates wishing to teach creationism in US schools. One of the defining characteristics of the FSM is its fondness for pirates. See www.venganza.org for more information.

2 Richard Dawkins states in "The Root of All Evil?", a television special for Channel 4 in the UK, that we are all teapot atheists with respect to Bertrand Russell's teapot in space.

My argument is admittedly weak. Our second assignment is going to be to rewrite this essay, so hopefully the class will have improved my arguing skills before then.

Update: I've completed my second paper on the problem of evil. I had the option of changing my argument to be in agreement with the problem of evil, but I got lazy, and kept my original argument.

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Sat, 18 Feb 2006

Back to School

I started back at school last week. After dropping out of the computer science program at LMU almost 9 years ago, I'm going to give school another shot.

I'm going to Pierce College, a local community college. I hope to transfer to UCLA or one of the other UC campuses next year to study economics.

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The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. - Frederic Bastiat