Sunday Papers

March 4th, 2012 at 9:41 pm

First, whatever you read today, read this.  It’s a pitch-perfect discussion by an honest, self-effacing man trying to do the best he can in a very tough job: teaching students with learning disabilities.  The piece thoroughly captures the challenges he faces in a system that provides more arbitrary scrutiny than support.

I live in a world where education policy is debated from 40,000 feet up with declarations about how we must test, measure, and evaluate our way forward, with little actual consideration about dwindling resources, the challenges many kids bring with them to school, and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores in this environment.  This short piece brings those points to life in a way that I found extremely resonant.

Second, Ezra Klein provides some excellent analysis of why we spend so much more than other advanced nations on health care.  It’s because our prices are so much higher.  And why’s that?

As I’ve always stressed in these pages, it’s because health care is not a normal market and therefore, normal price setting mechanisms don’t work, a key insight that every other advanced nation embeds in their health care payment and delivery systems.  Reform discussions in this area can get pretty arcane pretty quickly, but IMHO, all you need to know is that if someone shows up sick at the hospital, we treat them.  Therein lies the difference…if hungry people showed up at the super market and got fed, the market for food would be different too.

Health care is an unusual product in that it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the customer to say “no.” In certain cases, the customer is passed out, or otherwise incapable of making decisions about her care, and the decisions are made by providers whose mandate is, correctly, to save lives rather than money.

In other cases, there is more time for loved ones to consider costs, but little emotional space to do so — no one wants to think there was something more they could have done to save their parent or child. It is not like buying a television, where you can easily comparison shop and walk out of the store, and even forgo the purchase if it’s too expensive. And imagine what you would pay for a television if the salesmen at Best Buy knew that you couldn’t leave without making a purchase.

“In my view, health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere,” says Tom Sackville, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government and now directs the IFHP. “It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.”

The result is that, unlike in other countries, sellers of health-care services in America have considerable power to set prices, and so they set them quite high.

Third, don’t forget the funnies (I like the “breeding program” panel).


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5 comments in reply to "Sunday Papers"

  1. perplexed says:

    Its too bad that Ezra doesn’t know of Dean Baker or of any of his work on this subject. Possibly he eschews free books and doesn’t know that this one is out there: Otherwise, he might know a great deal more about the sources of the price discrepancies in our health care system than his article identifies.

    Or maybe, if no one talks about this elephant in the room, it will just disappear.

  2. Rima Regas says:

    Thanks so much for writing about the ‘bad teacher’ piece, Jared. As the mom of a child with Autism and Epilepsy, this is something that is near and dear to my heart. As a parent who chose to homeschool, I especially identify with the teacher’s observations, and sympathize with his plight. Unfortunately, parents don’t receive any more respect and attention than the really good teachers on staff do. Our education system is broken for many more reasons than we’ve been discussing. First, we need to decide what our priorities are. That discussion hasn’t yet taken place.

    Please keep posting on education.

  3. Michael says:

    There are two truths about education which really kicked me out of the mainstream on the issue.

    1) Charter schools do about the same as regular schools, on average. That is, they take some of the most motivated parents, and take their students and segregate them by their perceived desires, and come out . . . about the same. Talk about spinning gold into straw!

    2) The number one most effective intervention is breakfast. Everything else is almost irrelevant to making sure the kids have a cheese sandwich in the morning.

    Nothing I’m reading about education is ever compatible with either of these two truths, much less both.

  4. urban legend says:

    Matt Yglesias, that Dalton and Harvard-educated philosophy major who fancies himself an expert on public education, hasn’t had much to say about this.