Obamacare is a long overdue and needed feature of government

Brit Hume reported on Fox News this week the ostensible reason why Tea Party Republicans began their quest to shut down government and confront Democrats to defund ObamaCare: the Tea Party sees “an unfree nation supervised by an overweening and bloated bureaucracy. They are not interested in Republican policies that merely slow the growth of this leviathan. They want to stop it and reverse it. And they want to show their supporters they’ll try anything to bring that about.”

Best of luck to you, Tea Partiers.

Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin in 1979. (© www.jimraycroft.com 1982)
Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin in 1979. (© www.jimraycroft.com 1982)

Freedom is too big of a topic to embrace in this small column. I humbly demure to the hard right who initiated the “War on Terrorism” with an unprecedented abridgement of privacy coupled with fantastically expensive and broad military incursions not seen since the time of Polk. Of course, military budgets were a lot less expensive in the early 1800s than today, but one must see the trend in perspective with a comparison to the size of government. Polk too was a favorite of the Tories.

James Madison quipped, ““If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

So much for freedom. So let’s set aside the topic of freedom and simply examine “bloated bureaucracy”. After all, trillions of dollars are easier to manage than placating an angry fringe group.

As I considered this concept, I peered at my WERTY keyboard and I recalled my IBM PC from 30 years ago. I laughed at how “bloated” the administration of my computer is in 2013 compared to lean spare beige hulk dominating my desktop in 1982.

The IBM PC’s CPU used the legendary Intel 8088 and it ran at an unprecedented speed of 4.8 MHz. My HP Pavilion G6 laptop uses an AMD A6 processor and runs at 3.8 GHz, or three orders of magnitude (1000 times) faster than the original IBM.

The IBM 30 years ago didn’t even have a hard drive. It ran on two 5 ½ inch 360 Kb floppy discs, which one would boot up by preinstalling a DOS disc before starting. To load programs or save data, one would use other floppy discs as needed. My HP Pavilion laptop uses a 400 GB hard drive, which has four orders of magnitude (about 10,000x) more capacity than the 360 Kb floppy on the IBM PC. That PC wasn’t as clean or elegant or user friendly as my present laptop, but it was a magnificent study in efficiency!

We;ve come a long ways from this IBM.
We;ve come a long ways from this IBM.

In 1981, a programmer had to be extremely conscious how proficient one was writing code, because computer resources were spare. By contrast, today’s programmers often use “object oriented” programming methods, which means they rarely worry about the compactness or efficiency of a program, but use blocks of pre-written programming code, or “objects”, like Legos,  to assemble their work.

My laptop today is bulging with huge programs that can edit images and movies, as well as text spreadsheets. It contains wasted space and resources used, and I can also waste time on Facebook. It’s a nifty machine.

My PC from 30 years ago was simpler. It had two fantastic programs: one was WordPerfect and the other was an arcane program, a “Visual Calculator” called VisiCalc. Created by Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin, it was the world’s first digital spread sheet, and all formatting and formula conventions followed VisiCalc. VisiCalc was much more useful than my HP-45 RPN calculator, and I used it as much as my word processor. Steve Jobs, in a Japanese NHK interview from 1996, said VisiCalc propelled the Apple II forward.

VisiCalc had such an impact on Apple’s market, that according to the creators of VisiCalc, the Apple III was only released only after the latest version of VisiCalc was approved.

VisiCalc took 32 32K bytes, or 8 Kb of space. By contrast, MS Office with its two essential programs, Word and Excel, takes almost 100 Mb to load. When I see the comparison between my original IBM PC and today’s laptop, I am amazed by remarkable inefficiency of today’s machine over yesterday’s leviathans. After all, the two essential programs, Word and Excel, do almost the same thing as WordPerfect and VisiCalc, and MS Office is thousands of times more bloated in disc usage. While the latest program is more costly in resources, it is far more versatile and user friendly.

One could say the same is true of government.

If one merely focuses on the growth of government spending and neglects the congruent growth in GDP, it appears that government spending is bloated and just getting worse. (View graph of Total Government Spending) However if one sees the figure of ballooning government spending in context and graphs it as a ratio to the GDP, the story is far richer and more compelling. (View graph of Government Spending vs GDP)[i] The graph showing Government Spending vs GDP does not show a government out of control, but a relatively flat curve in context.

Total Government Spending
Total Government Spending
Federal Government spending vs GDP.

Like the progress of computer technology, form and function of government was far simpler in the early 20th century. There was no Social Security. Nor was there any Medicare or Medicaid. Nor was there an SEC, EPA or FCC or FAA. The FDA was in its infancy, as the only law regulating drugs in 1900 was the Vaccine Act of 1813. The extension of federal agencies looks like the expansion of features added to today’s computers, and while one might yearn for a simpler time with a smaller government, we must remind ourselves why all these features or agencies of government were created.

Almost always, an agency is created after a disaster. The severity of the 1929 crash that led to the Great Depression was so great that it is fair to say that capitalism failed. Many countries were not as fortunate to have such a great leader as FDR who implemented positive solutions such as the New Deal, Social Security, and the SEC. Instead many countries turned to far-flung and weird panaceas of fringe political movements to solve their economic woes: Germany turned to a nutty outlying artist in Munich to ease their anguish.

Yes, SEC filings are inconvenient, and numerous economic policy advisors, from Lawrence Summers to Alan Greenspan, have undone many monetary regulations for that reason. Summers and Greenspan sought to make the economy more efficient by improving efficiency. They lobbied to undo the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 with the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999, and we paid a heavy price for that mistake in 2008.

Bob and Dan.
Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin. (Douglas Christian)

Regulations often appear bloated and not unlike government waste. But as Bob Frankston pointed out, if one designs the architecture of a system well, regulations are needed less.

Take a clearly marked road and or a well-designed computer program: we know, for instance, that cars belong on roads and pedestrians on sidewalks. VisiCalc designed a layout so simple and effective that all succeeding spreadsheets use it. Rows are labeled by number and columns are delineated by letter.

Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston reasoned that a business spreadsheet may only need enough labels to mark 52 weeks, or an alphabet or two, but thousands of labels to mark transactions.

Markets are murky and we need clarity in that miasma, and thus regulations are useful. The alternative question is: “Do we really want to step backward to an unregulated stock market that panicked in 1884, 1893, 1896, 1901, and 1907 prior to 1929?”

Bobs upstairs office. (Douglas Christian)
Bob Frankston’s upstairs office. (Douglas Christian)

In context, there is not an ‘overweening and bloated bureaucracy’, but rather a rather balanced trend of government growth to meet increasing needs. When one sees the growth of government vs. GDP and the expansion of computer features with the increase of computer power, there appears to be a natural ratio between the number of features in a system and the growth of resources.

I’d label that trend the Ratio Trend of Resources (RTR). Just like the RTR settled to a new level in the mid-30 percent range after FDR, so too the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is another needed (and long overdue) feature of government that will not add to bloat unless the GDP continues to grow, but become a natural part of our national evolution.

[i] I took out local and state taxes from these two graphs, not to obscure or obfuscate, but to simplify and make my point: that we must see these figures in context and not separately. If one adds state and local taxes, the total is obviously increased, but the trend is the same.


One thought on “Obamacare is a long overdue and needed feature of government

  • October 29, 2013 at 7:23 PM

    Why is it that most politicians and the controlled media have the masses focused on fixing a dysfunctional website and/or adjusting the “you better sign-up by then” date forward? Neither fix the underlying problem. The problem is corporate greed!
    Because I choose to operate a deadly weapon on the streets of my community, I am then responsible to carry auto insurance in the event that I cause harm to another. However, to force me (which may eventually happen under a future Homeland security act, due to the desire of those controlling the federal govern plan to imbed RFID microchips into the masses) into a health care system, aka.. (Affordable Health Care Act), which is designed to, not only create massive wealth for corporations such as the AMA, Big Parmakia and insurance companies, which not only violates my constitutional rights, my free-will right to choose, but also to physically control the masses. Hitler’s 3rd Reich was a trial run. The 4th Reich began when We, the People allowed the ruling class to rob us of our Constitutional Republic and install their Corporate Democratic Dictatorship; http://www.focusonrecovery.net

Comments are closed.