Sunday, 4 October 2015

Economic Argument for Medicare for All

This article was featured in The Bern Report.

Bernie Sanders has been advocating for a Medicare for All Single-payer system in virtually every speech during his extraordinary campaign for presidency. In fact, he has been advocating for it during his entire political career and even introduced legislation to that effect in 2011. While virtually everyone believes that a Medicare for All would be a good thing in principle, many are concerned that it may not be viable economically. They fear that it would cause the debt to balloon, increase taxes significantly, damage the economy and hurt the quality of healthcare. While these concerns seem troubling, they are simply unfounded. In this article, I will explain these myths and demonstrate why a Medicare for All Single-payer system is not only a viable system, but also is the best option economically.

Ironically, just before I got the chance to finish my article, a Wall Street Journal article surfaced yesterday suggesting that a Medicare for All would cost an additional $15 trillion. Troubling? Not so fast…!

Healthcare expenditure in the US is unsustainable

The United States has spent more than 17% of its GDP on healthcare, significantly higher than any developed country. Most countries that have Medicare for All, spend between 9 to 12% of their GDP on healthcare (See graph below). What might surprise you is that the US government spending on healthcare, not the private sector, is already one of the highest in the world at around 8%, and that’s even before the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).

Total health expenditure as a share of GDP, 2010

But the biggest issue that the United States faces is that healthcare expenditure has been rising at an unsustainable level. Health care costs are projected to rise to 25% of GDP in 2025 and 49% in 2082. In Canada which has a national Single-payer Healthcare system, GDP expenditure on healthcare has been very steady, and actually declining! It went down from 11.9% in 2010 to 11.7% in 2011 to 11.6% in 2012.

Strain on Businesses

It costs money for companies to provide healthcare benefits and insurance to their employees. GM reports that healthcare costs add between $1,500 and $2,000 to the sticker price of every automobile it makes. And it’s not like the situation is getting any better. Healthcare premiums are skyrocketing, and ironically, insurance brokers blame Obamacare. This causes a real strain on businesses, leading to more businesses to cut jobs or cruelly cut health benefits.

Competitive Disadvantage

We live in a globalized world where businesses need every competitive advantage to remain successful and competitive. Healthcare costs to businesses put American companies at a competitive disadvantage to their counterparts. Autoweek reports that “Japan’s health care gives Toyota edge [over GM]”. GM could have launched 3 additional new-model programs every year if it didn’t have to pay for its retirees’ health care. Do I need to say more?

Job lock and Loss of Productivity

A job lock is the inability of an employee to voluntarily terminate employment with a particular company because he or she would lose current health care benefits. This leads to reduction in entrepreneurship, and it is estimated that it affects close to 4 million Americans. One study showed that, in California alone, in 2002 job lock affected 179,000 people, with $722 million in foregone productivity.

Is it affordable?

You might agree with me on every point above, but still be skeptical that Medicare for All might not be affordable. After all, didn’t Wall Street Journal just state that it costs $15 trillion?

That article is very misleading. I can’t describe how irritated I got when I saw the journalist present only half-truths. It’s like someone gets a promotion, but he or she is only told that they no longer hold their current position! Is that a lie? Not technically, but it is dishonest.

Annual healthcare spending in the US is $3.8 trillion. Over 10 years, that means that US will most likely spend more than $40 trillion over the next decade, of which more than $20 trillion is attributed to private healthcare. How does that number compare to $15 trillion? I’ll let you decide for yourself. One of the reasons that Medicare for All is much cheaper is because the government would save nearly 30 cents on the dollar which is attributed to administrative costs and profits. Another reason is that you can no longer expect pharmaceutical companies to charge the government obscene prices, like $1,000 per pill for Sovaldi (Hepatitis-C medicine).

But people may still be concerned that for the government to fund this program, it will have to raise taxes. Let us be frank, this is very much true, and Bernie was very honest about this from day one. But before you frown about the idea of more taxes, consider this: The average expenditure per person is about $9,146 per year. That’s a lot of money out of pocket. Don’t you think so? If someone tells you that now you no longer have to pay 9K, but only 6K for example, wouldn’t it be common sense to welcome such an idea?

Final Thoughts

Ask yourself a very simple question. If you spend more than your friend to buy a car, wouldn’t you expect that your car should be much better than his or hers? Wouldn’t you feel cheated if you paid twice as much for a Hyundai when your friend gets a Cadillac for half the price? The reality of the matter, this is precisely what’s happening in the United States. The US spends much more than any other nation in the world, yet the quality of the healthcare system is ranked 37th in the world. And to add insult to injury, every single country that ranked better than the US has a Medicare for All healthcare system! I’ll let you depart with that thought in mind.

Coming Soon… Moral and Health Arguments for Medicare for All

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Does God Exist? The Pool Table Argument


Does God exist? This question has been around for thousands of years. Many philosophers, theologians, scientists have presented several arguments for and against the existence of God. So who's right? Well, it depends on who you're talking to.

I used to be a militant atheist before converting to Christianity. When I was an atheist, I used to believe in determinism, which is the "philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs".

During a conversation with my brother, we were describing a Pool table game. Under determinism, if the balls were hit and we had complete knowledge of physical laws, we argued that we should be able to determine when and where each ball will end up at in the pool table. We should be able to trace all the events back to the beginning because they must have obeyed physical laws. We also argued that no matter how much we go back and forth in time, the result could never change, because other factors can't exist.

But we faced a dilemma. What about the white ball? How could we determine how it was hit? Why was the white ball hit this way, and not in any other way? This what brings me to the Pool Table argument for God's existence.

Pool Table Argument for God's Existence

This argument is very similar to many other arguments such as: Aquinas' "Uncaused first cause" argument, Plato's "Self-originated motion" argument and William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological ArgumentThe pool table argument goes like this:

1. Premise A: Every cause was either caused or uncaused (Null Hypothesis)
2. Premise B: There is a finite number of past causes.
3. Let n be the number of past causes and let C be the set of all causes that ever existed: c1, c2, c3 ... cn
4. Now choose any cause cx from the set of causes C.

Using Recursive process

5. Does cause cx have at least one preceding cause causing it?
6. If the answer is no, then cx is an uncaused cause. End of proof
7. If the answer is yes, then cx has at least one preceding cause causing it
8. Let cy be any of the causes that caused cx
9. Remove cx from the set of all causes C. Now the size of C will be reduced by 1
10. Now make cx = cy and repeat steps 5 to 10

The recursive process will loop until either:

a. An uncaused cause is found in step 5; or 

b. After a maximum of n-1 iterations, the size of set C will become 1. At that point, there's only one cause left in the set. There are absolutely no other causes available that can cause it. Therefore, this single cause must be an uncaused causeEnd of proof.

Conclusion: The logic above, if the premises are true, concludes that there must exist at least 1 uncaused cause.

Implications of an uncaused cause

Now that I've demonstrated the necessity of at least 1 uncaused cause, let's examine some of the properties of an uncaused cause:

1.  An uncaused cause must have behaved in a certain way that's not predetermined.

2. This cause couldn't have been naturally caused.

3. The cause must have acted freely. If it wasn't free, then what made it act this way?

4. The cause existed before the creation of the universe, and therefore it can be deduced that it's the main cause for the creation of the universe.

Therefore the first uncaused cause is unnatural, free, not predetermined and created (or was the first cause) of the universe. If this doesn't sound like God... Then I really don't know what does?

Supporting arguments from Science

The Big Bang theory is a well accepted theory that confirms that the universe has a beginning. The Borde-Guth-Valenkin theorem also proves that the universe had a beginning. The BGV theorem also states that any universe with an expansion rate of greater than zero must have a beginning and cannot be past-eternal. Even if you argue that this universe was caused by a previous universe which was caused by another universe, you will eventually have to reach a universe that simply began.

These theories only support the initial claim that there exists at least one uncaused cause which somehow (directly or indirectly) led to the creation of our universe. I argue that these theories support the God hypothesis. When scientists presented evidence that the universe wasn't eternal in Hawking's 70th birthday, Lisa Grossman described it as the "worst birthday presents ever". She argues that "…physicists, including Hawking, tend to shy away from cosmic genesis. A point of creation would be a place where science broke down."

Why is there a finite number of past causes? (Defense of Premise B)

One may argue that my argument fails because there could exist an infinite number of past events. However, Infinity ∞ doesn't actually exist. It's only a potential abstract concept. Many make the mistake that it's a number. Here are some peculiar properties of ∞:

∞ + 1 = ∞
∞ x 765 = ∞
∞ + ∞ = ∞
You can't even say that ∞ = ∞, ∞ ≠ ∞ or ∞ > ∞!

Past events are events that already occurred. David Hilbert explains this with Hilbert's paradox. You will love the video!

Hilbert's paradox goes like this:

Imagine that there is a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. And every room was taken! Someone comes to the hotel and wants a new room. The owner will say "Yes of course!" How? Well, you ask the tenant of room 1 to go to room 2, 2 to 3...etc. Guess what! Room 1 is now vacant.

If an infinite number of new tenants want to enter the hotel, they still can! You ask tenant of room 1 to go to room 2, 2 to 4, 3 to 6…etc. Now all even numbered rooms have been taken, and all odd numbered rooms are available (Infinite of them)! 

Basically, basic laws of math fail with infinities. Because infinities are potential values, but can never be achieved. No matter how much you add to a number, you will never reach infinity.

There's also a scientific way to prove that there can't be an infinite number of past events. (Please excuse the calculus).

Let m = n + 1, where n, m ∈ ℕ
∀n, ∀m ∈ ℕ, m - n = 1
Let n = 
m = n + 1 = ∞ + 1 = 
m - n = ∞ - ∞ ≠ 1
∴  ∉ 

Or in other words, ∞ is not a number.

Since past events actually occurred, then it's impossible that there is an infinite number of past events.

[Update] Aquinas' Argument from Motion

I just stumbled over a book1 that explains Aquinas' "Argument from Motion" with a pool table, so it appears that I am not the first to coin this idea with a pool table.

1 T. M. Renick, "Aquinas for Armchair Theologians", pp. 22

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

I'm a Christian Therefore I'm a Liberal

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that most religious people are conservative and support right-wing parties. For instance, 80% of white evangelical protestant voters supported the Republican Party in the 2014 US presidential elections. In a 2006 study, research showed that most UK Anglicans remain firmly on the right. I also experience this in my own Church community where almost the entire congregation supports the Conservative Party of Canada. These conservative views, often called family values, include opposition to the right to same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.

The part that frustrates me the most is that it has become expected or even required from a Christian to be conservative. Christians with liberal views are outnumbered and sometimes accused of veering from the true teachings of the Bible. I have to argue that they are very wrong. I believe that not only Christians can be liberal... but rather that they should be liberal!

Let’s look at euthanasia. Most would agree that euthanasia is considered a sin in the Christian faith, as well as most religions. As a Christian, I also believe that euthanasia is wrong. Nevertheless, it's very important to make a clear distinction between what someone might deem as right or wrong vs. the right to freedom of choice, belief and religion. I have the right to believe that euthanasia is morally or religiously wrong… but that doesn't mean in any way that others don’t have the right to do that very thing that I consider very wrong!

We must also not forget that no individual or belief system holds a monopoly over the truth… I might think that euthanasia is wrong, others might think otherwise… Why should my opinion be considered more right than theirs?

What I find very remarkable is that Jesus Christ Himself advocated for the separation of Church and State and supported the freedom of choice. And yes… this even includes the freedom to sin. Jesus didn't coerce anyone to following any of His teachings. Here are some examples:

  • Separation of Church and State – "...Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mark 12:17)
  • Freedom of choice – "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful..." (1 Cor 10:23)
  • Jesus reprimanded his disciples when they wanted to call down fire from heaven on the village that didn't welcome Jesus. (Luke 9:51-56)
  • Jesus spoke about His wish to gather the people of Jerusalem to believe in Him, but they weren't willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Someone might say, “That’s fine! We’ll put this into a vote, and let the vote decide. I’ll vote against it… another might vote for it… and so on.” But that’s not enough! By doing so, minorities will be deprived from their rights and freedoms. There are many examples in history were minorities’ rights were suppressed. It’s our duty to support the rights and freedoms of minorities.

So I have to argue that Christians don’t have to support euthanasia, but must support people’s right to euthanasia. The maximum that you can do is to pray for them and try to convince them against it. But in the end, it’s their choice. The same applies to other issues such as same-sex marriage. You have the right to believe that the sacrament of marriage is between a Christian man and a Christian woman and that they become one in Christ. But homosexuals have the right to demand same-sex marriage even if you think that it’s wrong!