Friday, August 28, 2009

Why did Switzerland surrender?

In early August, Swiss bank UBS gave in to demands by the United States to divluge the names of over 4000 accounts. Normally this would be in violation of Swiss banking secrecy laws, but somehow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced the Swiss government to allow this. The Swiss reported that UBS had no real choice in turning over the names.

The mystery is why the Swiss give in. Yes, diplomatic relations between the United States and Switzerland, but the Swiss have a well-deserved reputation for neutrality and any damaging of relations is more likely to hurt the reputation of the United States than it is to hurt Switzerland. Any overt action against Switzerland by the United States would be greeted with condemnation, even if those measures were on a lower level such as economic sanctions or condemnatory UN resolutions.

In a possibly apocryphal story, a Nazi commander asked a Swiss soldier what their 500,000 man militia would do if faced with 1,000,000 storm troopers. The solder replied "shoot twice and go home." While this conversation might not have actually happened it certainly captures the essence of the Swiss resistance to threats.

Then why would the Swiss give in to demands by the IRS? What could Hillary Clinton have said to cause the Swiss to give in?

The Swiss were also in the news in June as two Japanese individuals were caught attempting to sneak bonds into that country but were captured by Italian police. The bonds were of sufficient denomination to represent a full quarter of the Japanese holdings of United States debt. These bonds were later proven to be forgeries - high quality obvious forgeries. A true forger would want to make bonds as realistic as possible, and as a result not make such a blunder.

Forgeries of this nature are unlikely to be the work of any independent criminal. They are much more likely to be the work of a government engaging in economic warfare, and having the operative get captured is the warfare equivalent of a "shot across the bow".

Could it be that the United States government was behind the forged bonds? Could Secretary of State Clinton have told the Swiss that next time the bonds would be indistinguishable from the real thing - because they'd be made by the same printing press?

What would be the advantage of the United States government distributing forged United States treasury bonds in Switzerland? Once the forged bonds are snuck in and sold, the new owners would try to redeem these bonds. The United States would decline because "some bonds from Switzerland are forgereries". Following the discovery would be an announcement by the U.S. government that any bonds in Switzerland must be verified by the U.S. government in order to be redeemed. Given how much of the rest of the world holds their wealth in dollars, and how much of it may reside in Switzerland, that would freeze the hidden wealth of most of the world and damage the Swiss banking system. Millionares world-wide would be forced to reveal hidden assets, often to their own detriment, or lose those hidden assets.

It would be a nuclear option. Did Hillary Clinton threaten Switzerland with a nuclear option?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Statist Fallacy

A common argument in favor of any new proposed law is that if someone opposes the law then the person who opposes the law is in favor of whatever the law is supposed to prevent. For instance, whenever someone suggest that laws against drugs be repealed then the argument is then made that anyone who makes that argument is therefore in favor of drug use. Or when someone suggests that prostitution be legal the argument is made that anyone who makes that argument is a proponent of prostitution.

Also when a new government program is proposed, if someone dares suggest that the government has no business providing a good or service then whoever dares make that suggestion doesn't want that service provided at all. For instance, anyone who dares suggest that the government has no role in providing health care is accused of wanting people to not be able to access health care.

These are two variations of the same fallacy. It is assumed that if the government isn't involved then the issue is unresolved, and anyone who opposes a government solution then opposes a solution at all.

It's a very nasty fallacy, as it often puts those who oppose government solutions on the defensive. They have to defend themselves against many spurious vice charges, such as indulgence in prostitution or drugs, or the vice of greed since they allegedly want to keep their money rather than solve some problem that the government would use that money to solve. Loaded questions such as whether anybody who opposes welfare ever gives to charity are thrown up to distract from the main argument of the program itself.

As any proponent of liberty knows, it is quite possible to oppose something and oppose laws against it at the same time, such as opposing racism and opposing thought crime laws. It is also possible to support something and oppose laws mandating it at the same tme, such as charity. The simple solution when faced with the statist fallacy is to call it for what it is. A more argumentative solution is to say "so you require a law for you to do what is right?"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

End of life medical care

It is true that there needs to be a reform of end of life medical care. Unfortunately for the country the reforms originally poffered under one of the five competing and not thoroughly defined plans promoted by President Obama offered exactly the wrong reform.

End of life counseling, death with dignity discussions and other such means aimed at helping seniors plan for the ultimate end, or even panels that decide the life value of the care and thus cut off care as some describe (and may or may not have been in any one of the five plans) are not the answer that is needed. Those reforms mean more regulation and more bureaucrats, which will ensure that the care fails to offer any actual concern for the people involved.

The problem lies not in the absense of government, but once again in government involvement.

It is well known in the medical profession that the most expensive treatments are almost always the end of life care, whether the patient be 30 or 90. The patient will start to suffer from what medical professionals call "TBF", short for "Total Body Failure." At that point there is no care that is cure. All the care will do is extend life for a few more hours, or perhaps even minutes.

But when a patient is experiencing TBF, generally the family says "Do what ever it takes to keep (him) alive." The Doctor's hands are thus tied, by law, to fulfill the wishes of the family and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few more hours of life.

The one thing the doctor cannot do, without risking a malpractice suit and possible license revocation, is to say "there is nothing more I can do, so I will do nothing more." He is forbidden to say that.

Since the family is not the one paying the final bills, they belong to the patient himself, the patient's insurance if available, and probably medicare and medicaid, the family has no reason to worry about the cost of these extra hours. The bill is paid for by everyone else, either the hospital or insurance company absorbs the cost and passes it along to everyone else, or the taxpayer absorbs the cost and passes it along to everyone else.

One simple way to substantially reduce the cost of medical care is would be to reduce the regulations that forbid doctors from making this determination, but that would be opposed by statists because that would be doctors instead of bureaucrats making the decision, and that ould be less regulation instead of more. But, unlike the end of life counseling preferred by statists this would actually work.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Missing Debate

The debate over the "Cash for Clunkers" program is interesting. It is a perfect microcosm of the debate over the entire economic progam of the Obama administration.

Those who favor the program argue that it stimulates the economy and is good for the environment. Those who oppose the program argue that is an example of the fallacy of the broken window and that it is not environmentally beneficial because while an old car only has the gas mileage environmental costs a new car has manufacture and gas mileage environmental costs.

The response from those who favor the program is not to argue any of these points. The response from those who favor the program is not to even acknowledge that the points have been made in the first place, but to repeat the original claims as if they are proven already.

Given that all the claims are already proven, there is no need to debate. Debate only gives unnecesary credibility to those who have no basis to their arguments. Never mind that the arguments against are based on some pretty realistic concerns about if the program actually works economically or environmentally, as long as the arguments aren't analyzed there is no need to worry about their content.

At least under Bush it was obvious when counter arguments were being dismissed out of hand and without thought, but under Obama the talk isn't "if you are not with us you are against us" but instead there is the suggestion of bipartisanship and all sides coming together. All sides can come together, if they all agree to do as they are told by the Obama administraiton.