The $8000 tax: Long ago and far away, the Washington Post published a front-page report which was, in theory, important.
Actually, Heather Long's front-page report appeared early last month. It graced the front page of the Washington Post.
Long's report started as shown below. As a theoretical matter, her topic was very important:
LONG (1/8/20): America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.In recent years, Case and Deaton have become major high-profile economists. In 2015, Deaton won a Nobel Prize in the field.
“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”
The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system—Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay.
Now, the pair were saying that the typical American household is paying the equivalent on an $8000 tax due to our nation's very high health costs.
Indeed, the typical family is paying this extra $8000 every single year. And, as Long's report continued, the news got even worse:
LONG (continuing directly): Despite paying $8,000 more a year than anyone else, American families do not have better health outcomes, the economists argue. Life expectancy in the United States is lower than in Europe.Oof! American families are paying an extra $8000 per year. In return, our system is "delivering the worst health [outcomes] of any rich country," according to Case.
“We can brag we have the most expensive health care. We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country,” Case said.
Case and Deaton had delivered this analysis at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. Their analysis went right to the front page of the Washington Post—and, completely predictably, that's where the matter died.
The Post's report appeared in early January. We've waited to mention the front-page report in order to make a key point:
Our public discourse involves no serious discussion of any significant issue. In journalism and in the academy, the guardians have walked off their posts.
Before proceeding, let's note one key fact about Case and Deaton's analysis. By comparing American health care spending to that of Switzerland, the economists were making their point in the softest possible terms.
Switzerland is a small higher-income nation. Its per capita health care spending falls well short of our own, but it far exceeds that of all other major developed nations.
If Case and Deaton had compared our health care spending to that of Canada, France, the U.K. or Japan, the "poll tax" paid by the typical family would have been much larger.
Those larger developed nations all spend much less, per capita, than Switzerland does. For the relevant data, click here.
In that sense, the typical American family is paying a hidden "tax" of substantially more than $8000 per year. In return for all that extra spending, they're getting the worst health outcomes in the developed world, or so say Case and Deaton.
You'd almost think a front-page report like the one in the Post would trigger wide public discussion. That's especially true because health care has become the central driving topic in the nation's recent political discussion.
Health care lies at the heart of the current Democratic White House campaign. The Post was reporting that the typical family was paying an extra $8000 for its health care every single year—and, as a handful of journalists may even know, the real number is substantially higher!
You'd almost think a report like that would generate public discussion. But this front-page report in the Post had a predictable lifespan:
It appeared on page one of the Washington Post, and that's where the matter died.
Exactly as anyone might have predicted, that front-page report produced exactly zero wider discussion. Columnists didn't discuss the report in the Post or the New York Times. No one discussed the report on the liberal world's favorite "cable news" programs.
The silly children on corporate cable are there to entertain and please their tribal viewers. Rachel Maddow wouldn't discuss a report like Long's if her grandmothers' lives were at stake. In fairness, the same can be said for Chris and Chris, and for Lawrence and Brian.
Briefly, let's be fair. Absent the inflammatory language about a "poll tax," there was absolutely nothing new about Case and Deaton's presentation.
Way back in 2005, Paul Krugman devoted a series of columns in the New York Times to this remarkable state of affairs. To read the first column in his series, you can just click this.
Krugman hadn't yet won his own Nobel Prize; that happened in 2008. But he was writing from one of the highest platforms in American journalism, and his columns produced zero discussion. Simply put, topics like this will not be discussed within the mainstream American discourse.
Within the mainstream American discourse, silly children go on TV and hand you the latest polls.
They speculate about what will happen next. They discuss what Trump said ten minutes ago, and they do little else.
They gambol and they play and they cash their extremely large checks. They're trained to know how to make you like them. They do not discuss the kind of topic Case and Deaton aired.
In journalism and in the academy, our guardians have walked off their posts. Our journalists avoid topics like this. Our academics tend to be lost in the weeds of their particular "disciplines."
Krugman's columns produced no reaction. Fifteen years later, Long's report disappeared. Starting next week or the week after that, we plan to say goodbye to most of this, embarking on a different type of award-winning meta-discussion.
This week, though, we plan to review the type of carnage we'll be leaving behind. It's a type of American carnage characterized by endless silence, but also by mountains of foolishness.
Our thought leaders gave up the ghost long ago. Across the nation's upper-end landscape, our guardians have abandoned their posts.
Tomorrow: When guardians attack