American Exceptionalism?

I define exceptionalism as the believe that one is special, or has the only answer.  We have all met people like that.  What fun!

As I look at the claims of American exceptionalism, I have mixed feelings.  My problem is not that America is a special place. I believe it is.  We have a multitude of strengths that make us the envy of the world.

My problem lies with the portion of my definition that says we are the only answer, that ours is always the best solution.    Every country is different, with different problems and circumstances.  One size fits all is seldom a good solution, particularly when problems have a myriad of interrelated causes.  For example, is poverty in Africa caused by lack of freedom, poor education, lack of opportunities?  Yes, and probably several other causes.

Is American democracy the only answer?  Probably not.  After all, we still have a substantial number of problems with poverty, lack of education and lack of opportunity.

The goal of any country should not be to become America.  More likely the goal should be to bring the most benefits to most of the population.  The goal should be to take the best of America and to apply it to the unique circumstances of a particular country.

America has one of the least corrupt government systems in the world.  Our system of democracy lets us “throw the bums out” to an extent greater than most of the world and to give the people a large say in how things are.  but we are not perfect.

The goal of American exceptionalism should be to bring good governance to the most people and let them decide what is best of them.


One Country or Fifty Separate States?

I was re-reading Tom Friedman’s book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded (Farrar, Straus and Girous, 2008).  The part that started this train of thought was dealing with the US power grid and how it is made up of thousands of energy providers.each governed , primarily, by state laws.  The implication to me was you could not get a coherent energy plan, even as basic as a national “Smart Grid” system by getting agreement state by state.

I see the same situation with the US healthcare system.  While Federal reimbursement policy drives much of the system, the bulk of the regulation, particularly insurance regulation, is state by state.  While the Affordable Care Act may mitigate some of this, currently health exchanges and Medicaid expansion  are state by state.  Why should poor people in one state get expanded Federal benefits, but not in another state?

There is a similar situation on K-12 education.  The mantra of “Local Control”, with some state and local oversight leads to very inconsistent student results caused by inconsistent state by state curricula, teacher credentials and funding strategies.   It is clear we are not keeping up with the rest of the world when educating our children.

I don’t want to start a constitutional fight about the rights of states versus the central government.  However the founders viewed the Constitution, the country is very different now.  We are much more inter-connected and interdependent.

We need a national perspective to our problems, not fifty perspectives.  I view us as one country, not a collection of fifty states!


What is Going on with Syria?

Can someone please explain to me what is going on in Syria?

Secretary of State John Kerry is channeling Dick Cheney in leading the charge to attack Syria!

The Republicans are arguing against military action!

Maybe I have missed something, but I have not seen an intelligent discussion of any US security interests in attacking Syria.  Can someone explain Russia’s interest (other than poking the US).  I think I can understand why Iran is defending Assad, they need a proxy to distract the US and to pressure Israel.

But, is it in anybody’s interest to have Syria in complete chaos?

Syria – WTF Should We Do?

Syria would seem to be a situation with no good options.  If we don’t intervene, there is every likelihood of a continuing civilian catastrophe.  If we do intervene, what can we really do?

I have no source of information other than news coverage.  I don’t know the bad guys from the good guys.  I suspect that the people in charge of our Syrian policy, while having more details of the destruction, have little more actionable information.

From the outside, it is apparent to me that the US policy establishment does not understand the Arab world.  We clearly broke Iraq.  While it is hard to argue that Saddam Hussein should have remained in power, it is not clear to me that the present situation can soon lead to a positive outcome.  In Egypt, we have few options, even fewer good options.  Afghanistan is clearly still a mess.

It may well be that this messy process in the Arab world is the only path forward as they sort out for themselves what they want to be.

Many times that hardest decision is to do nothing.  This seems to be where we are right now.  I think we need to not intervene, particularly, when such intervention is likely to exacerbate the mess.  All we can do is provide humanitarian assistant to the refugees and wring our hands.



What Exactly are Their Concerns?

Obamacare is a huge law with potential long range effects to the US healthcare system.  Some of these effects will prove helpful, some harmful.  That being said, fair minded people are likely to have lots of problems with many of the aspects of the law.  Personally, I don’t like that most coverage is tied to ones employer.  Another is privacy.

I ,also, don’t understand the reluctance to let go of the current system.  It is expensive and (to the population as a whole) does not provide adequate coverage.  It is virtually impossible to shop for medical services.  In most states, the health insurance companies are a duopoly (two competitors control a majority of the market) which tends to foster cooperation, not competition.

So, as I said, fair minded people can have problems with Obamacare.  All I ask is that the concerns are explicit and that options may be considered to address those concerns.  Please keep in mind the requirements I mentioned in a prior post that any solution must not improve one measurement, while damaging another measurement.

Thanks – John


Some Thoughts on the Healthcare Problem: Can we, at least, agree on the problem?

The solution to any problem requires a clear definition of the problem and an understanding of what kind of outcome is a valid solution.

First, a couple of facts about the US healthcare situation.  According to the World Health Organization, the US has the highest healthcare costs in the world, but is only ranked 37th  in the quality of care.  The US, currently, has over 48,000,000 people without heath insurance.

Without digging into the details of the ranks, we can start with the high costs/low quality as a basis for finding a solution.

To me, any solution must improve one of the factors with without causing the other to deteriorate, e.g. we cannot lower the cost, if it has a negative impact on quality.

In future posts, I will make an attempt at possible solutions.

I look forward to your suggestions.