There has been much attention given recently to the problems of drug addiction and the release of criminals convicted for drug related crimes as the sentences they received are now deemed too harsh for these ‘non-violent’ crimes.  It has becomes an issue in the primaries with Jeb Bush, Chris Christy, and Carly Fiorina all giving personal testimonies on the matter.  In addition it is one of the main election concerns in New Hampshire.   So far the focus in the media has been on factors such as:


  • Race

  • The legalization of drugs, such as marijuana

  • The prescription practices for legal drugs

  • Drug use as a factor in other crimes

  • Drug crime’s impact on communities

While all of these things are important, they all have at least two things in common.   One, they are all effects and not causes.  They address the supply side, but not the demand.  Two, there is a call at some level for more government intervention to ‘fix things’.  However, when you try to fix the effects, and not the cause, you generally end up spending large amounts of money without having a significant impact on the underlying problem – witness the trillions spent in the war on poverty.  And what have we to show for that?  More people in poverty than before the war began – by whatever measure you want to choose.  Also, there are often unintended consequences from legislative actions that prove to be worse than the problems that they were initially intended to address.  This too stems from trying to treat an effect, especially when the intervention is performed by parties who have no experience in the subject at hand.  Would you go to your plumber with an electrical question?  If not, then why would you go to a group of lawyers for answers concerning addiction?


The above factors being presented all speak to emotions.   They are satisfying to discuss, but they do not address the source, they do not involve intellect, and therefore do not move the ball forward in terms of actually trying to resolve the issue itself.   I would like to propose two simple things that I believe are the underlying cause of this problem.  Now these are only hypotheses, and need to be vetted and tested – but that is okay.  That is exactly the type of discussion that is needed, and maybe this will be a start.


The first issue is the changes made to the healthcare environment, specifically the regulatory changes that have occurred over the last ten years or so.  These include the use of pain scales for treatments that suggest it is possible for someone to not experience pain.  The scale usually goes from 1 – 10 with the end points indicating no pain and extreme pain.  This misconception is supplemented by the inference that many medical procedures are either pain free, or that the pain can be controlled to such an extent that no pain should be experienced.  This is simply setting false expectations and leads to bad outcomes.  Underlying these regulatory changes is the shift from looking at the quality of medical outcomes to simply looking at payment reimbursements based patient satisfaction – based in large part on the amount of pain one experiences.  When you couple that with a legal environment where overtreatment is common in order to lessen the risk of legal liability, you have a recipe for disaster – and that is exactly what is occurring.


Just last evening there was a story on the local news about a local high school cheerleader who was by all accounts a good student and well-rounded individual.  She was prescribed opiates after a medical procedure.  She became addicted and moved from the opiates to heroine that was both cheaper and available without a prescription.  Of course the story ended with her losing her life.  What has happened to enduring hardship when it occurs, instead of believing it can and should be avoided at all costs?  Do we think we can live without there ever being any adversity?  What does that say about our character?  That is the first issue.


I believe the second issue is simply the loss of hope, and has its roots in an economic environment where for about the last eight years there have been few job prospects, and what jobs have been created are generally part-time and/or in low wage areas.  One report I remember from earlier this year said that the top three industries in terms of job growth were the hospitality, sanitation, and retail sectors.  There is nothing wrong with any of those jobs; they are just not high-paying.  The increase in the number of those types of jobs serves to lower the average wage and not raise it.  The labor participation rate is also at the lowest level that it has been since the dysfunctional days of the Carter administration – forty years ago.  Real wages have stagnated or declined.  There presently does not appear to be an end in sight, and people see and know that is so.


Add to that the false news that things are getting better when people see that they are not.  The unemployment rate keeps going down.  There is little inflation.  Unfortunately, these measures simply do not reflect reality any more.  We have a government that has decided what the outcomes need to be, and if those outcomes do not materialize then it needs to create measures that support its story.  This criticism is not aimed at any particular party.  Both are guilty.  The numbers reported in the two measures just mentioned are simply no longer reliable.  A change to the way the unemployed population is being measured results in that segment being under reported.  All one has to do is to give up looking for work to be removed from the roll of the unemployed.  It doesn’t matter if you want to work or not.  What kind of measure is that?  Substitutions are used in measuring the cost of living figures, and is the practice of influencing that measure by simply changing the basket of goods that go into it.  While the use of substitution has its place, it is no longer legitimately used to just replace items that are superseded by innovation, but instead are simply a means to achieve an end – a specific narrative.


So how do people know that things are not getting better?  They see their friends, neighbors, family; maybe even their own family struggling financially.  They see the cost for the same things that they buy at the grocery store each week; meat, milk, bread, produce, all going up 30 – 40% over the last several years.  These are not simply speculations, they are facts – and facts simply don’t go away when a measure conflicts with reality.  Both of these issues are being exacerbated by a third cause, the escapism that is available from today’s technology.  This allows someone to create an artificial world into which they can escape for a while, but in the end the real world is also a fact – and cannot be eluded from forever.


There is one simple solution that I think will solve the first two problems.  That that is to lessen government intervention.  In terms of healthcare, remove the regulations preventing the patient/doctor relationship from again being the primary driver of a strictly outcome oriented medical delivery process.  Using satisfaction as an outcome measure for this service could only come from a bureaucrat that has no idea what the real drivers of healthcare delivery are.  Also, allow healthcare consumers to decide whether they need to purchase insurance or not.  These are areas where there is no constitutional basis for government intervention in the first place.  It is when government starts to have skin in the game, through payments such as Medicaid, Medicare and other assistance programs that it becomes more involved in the process and outcomes.  The simple answer is removing it from the process, and letting people make choices that are in their own best interest.  However, the people making those choices must have a moral basis that is used in caring for those in need, so that charity becomes a responsibility they individual acts upon – and not the government.


The same is true with the second issue, the loss of hope.  Regulatory requirements cost us billions of dollars each year.  Do they provide billions of dollars in benefits to society?  That is hard to believe as compliance has a cost that must be paid for, that must eventually result in either passing those costs on or finding ways to reduce other costs – through methods such as automation or moving businesses to locations that are less expensive to operation in (which may not be in the US).  Man is intended to work.  He has been given skills, abilities, and talents to use, and their proper use is how we fulfill our purpose.  So what is the purpose of a government that prevents one from fulfilling their purpose?  How can that be justified, when the main purpose of government is to provide justice?


I must admit that this solution will not address the third issue mentioned in this article.  That is a different animal altogether.  But I believe in that area the answer will likely lie in restoring virtue and character to us as a people.  To both set our expectations and provide us with the tools and insights to make better decisions for ourselves.  And if we choose to make bad decisions, then there should be consequences for that and those should be borne by the individual making the bad choice.  No one else.


We need to once again look at people as individuals, and not simply as groups.  To do that we need to put government in its proper place so that we can care for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Posted in: Charity


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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.