(I am on vacation and we have made the 1200 mile trek from frozen Yankeeland to Louisiana to visit the family. Please accept some short observations hastily typed on borrowed computers, apropos of nothing in particular and perhaps not really related to anything you want to read about. -PB)
A Modest Proposal
Although you wouldn’t believe it from the casino billboards that become more numerous the closer you get to Vicksburg, the typical gambler in one of the many riverboat casinos that have docked at the river ports of Mississippi and Louisiana is not a suave, bon vivant dressed to the nines in elegant casual clothes or dapper evening wear. Nor are they young, fit, tan, and pretty. In fact, the clientele of a riverboat casino look suspiciously like nursing home patients on holiday, complete with motorized scooters and portable oxygen tanks. Either that or a cross-section of people who couldn’t get tickets for the tractor pull. It’s not even the slightest bit glamorous. There are no James Bond characters casually dropping a couple of grand with cultivated indifference but instead mostly just a collection of middle and lower class Americans sweating and smoking as they desperately try to recoup the grocery money that they lost at the blackjack table.
I am ambivalent to gambling. It is, after all, a free country and how people spend their own money, within reason, is their own business. Even so, there are huge legislative and public relation fights whenever the casinos want to set up shop, usually pitting those with moral objections to gambling against those lured by promises of free money to offset state budget deficits and provide for the economic development of decaying downtown river fronts. I have a hard time getting excited about protesting gambling even if I know that, despite the promises of money for the sacred public schools or other bloated but still underfunded state activities, as casinos are usually owned by consortia with no ties to the city or the state, any rational person would suspect that the net flow of money is going to be out of the community and not in. The lure of easy money however, of something for nothing, is too appealing to both the gamblers and the government for any group of citizens, even those who have economic and non-religious objections, to prevent the casinos from arriving.
It’s hardly worth fighting as the outcome is almost preordained.
The typical script used to assuage public fears is that, as the gamblers will be mostly from out-of-town or out-of-state, the negative effects on the local economy will be slight or non-existent. And yet, I have for curiosity’s sake wandered through some of the opulent casinos in Shreveport and I can’t help noticing that most of the gamblers look local. I mean, they ain’t coming from Iowa but probably from no farther than the neighboring Louisiana parishes or Texas counties. (Shreveport is on the Red River in the Northwest corner of Louisiana and only about fifteen miles from the Texas state line.) Most of them look like they really shouldn’t be throwing away large amounts of their disposable income in such frivolous pursuits, perhaps instead reserving some of it to pay their medical care, especially seeing how health care is the biggest concern of the electorate and our heads will explode if we don’t get everybody free health care as soon as possible. I don’t have the statistics to back this up, just intuition, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the people I have seen feverishly pulling at the slot machines or rolling the dice with glazed expressions are even part of the Holy 47-million-uninsured. Either that or they are sucking, literally and metaphorically, on Medicare oxygen as they wheel themselves from the buffet to the blackjack tables.
In short, there’s a lot of money being dropped by people who can’t afford it. Consider then the problem of getting people to pay for their health care. Gambling and other vices will always take priority, especially if medical care is free or quasi-free as it is today for the legions of those who know that no Emergency Department can turn them away for any reason regardless of their ability or intention to pay. Under the dual maxims that first, there’s no fighting human nature, and second, if you can’t beat ’em, you may as well join ’em, I propose we open up casinos in our charity hospitals. That way not only will we save on ambulance costs when an elderly patient living on a fixed income codes in front of a slot machine but the house’s cut, usually fairly substantial, can help defray the costs of providing free care.
It’s win-win, I tell you.
Social welfare, at least how it has been implemented in the wishy-washy West where we don’t have the gonads to throw troublemakers into a gulag, would have worked a lot better in 10,000 BC, at the dawn of human history when mastodons still trampled the occasional Neanderthal who came a little bit too late to take advantage of early Bronze-age affirmative action. It would have been great. They could have picked some arbitrary age, say 50, after which the rest of the tribe supplied you with bison meat and berries and everybody would have hunted and gathered in security, feeling pretty darn good about themselves, even though nobody, but nobody ever lived that long. Not only could a disease always be counted on to finish what a couple of bad winters started but, as being an active senior meant being able to flee from the saber-tooth cats with the rest of the clan, the odds were against anybody even living to forty. This is how it went for most of human history and, with slight variations, what is necessary on the graveyard end for any system of cradle-to-grave socialism to be sustainable.
The problem today, and surely FDR must be rolling in his grave, is that people refuse to oblige the state by dying at a reasonable age. Where once people routinely expired long before they could collect a single dime of government benefits , now the selfish bastards live many years beyond the time when a good citizen, if he really cared about the financial solvency of his nation, would sheepishly shuffle off his mortal coil to avoid offending anyone. In the United States, most of our socialism is for the elderly and they are voracious consumers of it, everything from Medicare to Social Security, the rich bounty of which many reap in excess to the contributions they have made when they were productive citizens back when Nixon was President. It’s a serious problem. The projected cost of supplying just medical care to the elderly is estimated to be around 40 trillion dollars in the next fifteen years. That’s 40 trillion dollars, most of which we do not have and yet are legally obliged to pay as Medicare, like Jehovah, lives in the Holy of Holies and death will strike down the blasphemer who dares suggest that we cut back on the burnt offerings.
Cut back we must. There is no way to pay this huge and rapidly growing sum. No way at all. Socialism in the United States (and everywhere else), as it is depends on a large pool of young workers paying the benefits for a small group or beneficiaries who play shuffleboard, totter around the house, and then obliging die before they can make too many demands on the system, is unsustainable. People are just living too long with too many medical problems all of which need to be carefully managed at great expense to ensure their ability to continue to use finite resources. A bit of a Catch-22 situation, I mean looking at it from a cold-blooded economic perspective.
It’s not that I am against taking care of the elderly. I’m all for it. I am just pointing out that shortly, very shortly, the decision not only to do it but to what extent is going to be taken out of our hands by two of the major principles of economics, first that nobody works for free and second, that you can’t pay for things forever with money you don’t have. You can borrow for a while but eventually your creditors will catch on that you cannot possibly pay them and the ride on the artificial prosperity train is over. One way or another we are heading for extreme rationing of medical care, either overtly or covertly, because there is no money to pay for unlimited access to all the health care you can eat. Surely our elected leaders know this but still not only promise to maintain the current levels of medical care to those already eating from the public trough but to extend similar benefits to everyone else. There is no money. We cannot add another 40 trillion to the projected deficit with impunity. The government does have other obligations, you know. Like defense, infrastructure, and the other traditional roles of government in free societies.