“Too big to take a pay cut”

Here is my latest column.  It's about how politicization is behind the financial crisis (in part), why we haven't learned very much from the financial crisis, why we are treating the health care sector just as we have been treating the banks, and why Atlas Shrugged is selling so many more copies.


We should stop using political favors as a means of managing an
economic sector. Unfortunately, though, recent experience with health care reform
shows we are moving in the opposite direction and not heeding the basic
lessons of the financial crisis. Finance and health care are two
separate issues, of course, but in both cases we’re making the common
mistake of digging in durable political protections for special
interest groups.

came over the summer when it was reported that the Obama administration
had promised deals to doctors and to pharmaceutical companies under the
condition that they publicly support health care reform. That’s another
example of creating favored beneficiaries through politics.

If these initial deals are falling apart, it is only because reform
met with unexpected resistance. Even after Mr. Obama’s speech Wednesday
night, we’re still at the point where the medical sector is enshrined
as “too big to take a pay cut,” which is not so far removed from the
banking motto of “too big to fail.” In finance and health care, a
common political dynamic has created similar trends, namely,
out-of-control costs, weak accountability, and the use of immediate
revenue patches to postpone dealing with fundamental problems.

worse, these political deals threaten open discourse. The dealmaking
may be inhibiting some people in health care from speaking out in
opposition to the administration’s proposals. Robert Reich, who served
as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, deserves credit
for complaining about this arrangement, but not enough people are asking where such dealmaking might stop.

The banking sector has been facing similar constraints; if bankers criticize the Treasury
or the Fed, they risk losing their gilded cages and could get a bad
deal when the next bailout comes. When major economic sectors can be
influenced in this way, are we really very far from the nightmare
depicted by Ayn Rand in “Atlas Shrugged”?

The conclusion is this:

In short, we should return both the financial and medical sectors and,
indeed, our entire economy to greater market discipline. We should move
away from the general attitude of “too big to take a pay cut,”
especially when the taxpayer is on the hook for the bill. If such
changes sound daunting, it is a sign of how deep we have dug ourselves
in. We haven’t yet learned from the banking crisis, and we’re still
moving in the wrong direction pretty much across the board.


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