Reacting to fear with hatred is a plague as old as pandemics themselves

With Turan Kayaoglu, Published May 31, 2020 in Tacoma’s News Tribune

Since Covid-19’s arrival, prejudice and fear may be spreading more rapidly than the virus itself.  As healthcare workers around the world bravely toil against Covid-19, we must pitch in to combat this disturbing side effect.

In the U.S., discriminatory practices in the face of this disease may be traced to President Trump’s regrettable labelling of Covid-19 as “The Chinese virus.’’ Nationwide, Asians are reporting surges in racist treatment. Just a few days ago the TNT (5/25) reported numerous incidences where Asian residents of Seattle were harassed, spit on, chased down and threatened, with a man yelling “Chinese disease!” after them.

Such responses are not new: Unknown and unfamiliar diseases, especially deadly ones, often leave us searching for outsiders to blame.

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The outdated way we measure poverty hurts those in need

Published in the Seattle Times Dec. 3, 2017

This fall the U.S. Census Bureau brought good news when it informed us that the nation’s poverty rate had fallen from 13.2 to 12.7 percent.

But now more than ever, we should be suspicious of this news.

To calculate a poverty rate requires first setting the threshold income below which someone is poor. The U.S.’s threshold, three times the cost of a minimum food diet, is more than 60-years-old and was set when food was families’ most costly expense. No wonder a family of four today with $25,000 in income is not officially poor: Our threshold doesn’t match the reality facing low-income households.
Next comes the challenge of defining income. As conservatives point out, we underestimate income by omitting the value of many cash and noncash government benefits. This practice dates to a time long past when government expenditures on tax credits, food stamps and housing subsidies weren’t that significant.

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Yes to universal health care, and Switzerland

Published September 27, 2017 in The Hill

Linda Gorman, director of the Independence Institute’s Health Care Policy Center, recently argued on these pages for a repeal of ObamaCare. Gorman claims that the movement toward a more European-style health care system, such as Obamacare steers us toward, leads us in the wrong direction.  For support, she compares our health care system with Switzerland’s.

I’ll address that comparison toward the end of this article.  Before getting there, though, I want to engage Gorman’s broader argument, both because it draws for support on my research comparing health care financing in the US with other countries, and because it misses basic health care economics.

To tackle the essence of Gorman’s argument that Americans are better off with a health care system leaving some uninsured, let’s step back from the specifics of Switzerland’s health care system.  Let’s instead examine the “European (or Asian)” model of health care.  Continue reading

Profit motive drives US health-care cost disparities

Published in The News Tribune, June 19, 2013

Back when he was president, Ronald Reagan famously (or infamously) reduced complex concepts to simple ones he thought the public could understand.

To explain the size of our nation’s debt, which in 1981 had just topped $1 trillion, he summoned the image of one trillion dollar bills stacked one on top of the other. My mind’s eye still can see that tower of bills reaching up beyond the stratosphere, extending one-quarter of the way to the moon. Continue reading

We can save much grief by getting ahead of social problems

Published in The News Tribune, February 27, 2013.

Each year as a nation, we spend more than $150 billion on research to find health-improving products. Such research has led to spectacular advancements in the health of those born prematurely or afflicted with heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

Yet when it comes to promoting a healthy population, we shouldn’t be so quick to congratulate ourselves. Continue reading

Untreated mental illness raises the risk factors for violence

Published in The News Tribune, December 19, 2012

The news from Newtown, Connecticut has many of us revisiting recent horrors where unstable citizens in our own communities committed the unspeakable crime of killing off-duty police officers, a sleeping father, a park ranger, and far too many others.  Yet even these senseless crimes pale in comparison with the terrifying violence visited last week on children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof passionately, predictably — and correctly – has called for stricter control and regulation of our nation’s guns.  Continue reading

It’s unfair to group the ‘welfare state’ into single lump

Published in The News Tribune, November 22, 2012

Often, holiday meals like those at my house consist of a range of separate contributions which collectively add up to the Thanksgiving Dinner.  As we sit down to partake of the varied assortment of dishes, no one would think of criticizing the turkey because the mushroom soup dish contained more fried onion rings than green beans, or because someone insisted on adding a bag of marshmellows to the sweet potatoes.

The fact that different dishes are on the same table doesn’t somehow turn them into one “Dish” called “Thanksgiving Dinner” that deserves a singular judgment.   Instead, we pass judgment on the successful (and quietly perhaps, the less successful) features of each individual dish.  Continue reading

Court ruling could leave state’s poor without access to health care,

Published in The News Tribune, August 2, 2012

The Supreme Court’s decision this summer to uphold the most controversial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the “mandate” requiring individuals to buy health insurance – was both historic and a critical victory for those battling to achieve universal health care in the United States.

However, while most of the public’s attention has rightly focused on the Court’s determination that the federal government can indeed require us to buy health insurance, this wasn’t the only provision in the ACA that opponents argued was unconstitutional:   They also claimed that the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to more of the nation’s poor coerced states’ participation by setting the penalty for nonparticipation too high. Continue reading

All I want for Christmas is an improved health care system

Published in The News Tribune, December 21, 2011

Today’s column concerns “deadweight loss.”


Why anyone would coin a term “deadweight loss” (DWL) is beyond me.  But someone did and we’re stuck with it.  Of all economic expressions this is the worst, conjuring up images of the Mafia and concrete boots.  But DWL is important; in order to have a “healthy” economy we should eliminate it.  Read on to see where I’m going. Continue reading

Back to square one with end of federal long-term care policy

Published in The News Tribune, October 25, 2011

With little fanfare, a Class Act died earlier this month.

Formally known as Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, Class Act was a short-lived health care program created as part of the recent health care overhaul.  The Obama Administration has just now cancelled it.

Class Act’s demise is noteworthy — certainly much more than would be indicated by its placement on the back pages of the newspapers.   Its end helps remind us of a present and growing problem we have yet to solve.   It also reminds us of the inadequacies in current health care policy. Continue reading

Health care reform repeal takes us in wrong direction

Published in The News Tribune November 14, 2010

Bolstered by the election, Republicans are now renewing their commitment to repeal Obama’s health care reform act.  The government’s “takeover of health care” was a bad idea, they say.   Courts in the meantime are reviewing the Act’s constitutionality, with many arguing that the federal government cannot legally mandate insurance. 

Not being a constitutional scholar, I’ll take a pass on this legal challenge and instead say why mandating insurance is exactly what the federal government should be doing. 

Aside from a moral argument that everyone should have health insurance, the reason for mandating insurance is that without universal coverage, the health insurance market is unacceptably wasteful and unfair. Continue reading