Nov 26 2009

First, Do No Harm

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:38 am

This is a repost of something I put up last September, before Obama was elected, of course.  I think it’s very appropriate for what has happened under Obama’s watch already, and what’s perhaps about to happen with healthcare.


Being a politician, and especially being President, has aspects in common with being a parent, and with being a physician.

Good parents, first and foremost, need to avoid damaging their children. Maybe I have low standards for parenting. But if you can raise a child to the age of 18 or so, and have helped them avoid doing damage to themselves (they aren’t substance abusers, high school dropouts, criminals, etc.), and if they know you love them, and they love you, you’ve probably won. Sure, there are tons of nice things to try to do, but they depend at least as much on the nature of the child as on parenting magic. The point: you are to raise the child, help where you can, not go against the fundamental nature of the child by trying to get things from them they can never do or simply hate (and you’ll have to be somewhat sensitive while discovering the child’s nature), and avoid messing the child up. Everything else is gravy, and we all know how bad that is for your health, in excess.

There is a similar principle in medicine, sometimes attributed to Hippocrates, “First, do no harm.” It means, generally, that if you can’t fix it, at least don’t make it worse, or create a new problem. Medical doctors used to attach leeches to “bleed” patients to remove “ill humors” that were making them ill. Of course, they were simply weakening their patients, in most cases. Thalidomide babies of 1950s helped lead to the creation of the modern FDA drug approval process (which has created its own problems), another example of doctors causing harm while trying to do good.

What has this to do with politics? It’s pretty simple: some problems are very complex, and are rooted in human nature and individual choice. The attempt to use governmental power to “fix” them is likely to create new problems, frequently without making a serious dent in the old ones, and sometimes making the old ones worse.

So: beware of the politician who promises things that have never been, that sound too good to be true, that depend on very complex systems managed by governmental power and oversight, and that create incentives for individuals and organizations to behave in ways counter to the intent of the new program or policy. Raise taxes on the rich, and they’ll change their behavior in ways that don’t lead to economic growth, and you’ll actually reduce tax receipts to the government. Offer benefits to unwed mothers, and you’ll have more unwed mothers. Fix prices at some “fair” level, and you’ll have shortages. Provide “free” or “cost controlled” healthcare, and you’ll soon run out of healthcare services…. a special case of price fixing, in essence. And so it goes.

I think it’s very likely that Obama plans huge, radical changes which will have unpredictable effects, not solve the problems he claims the changes are aimed at (or make them worse), and create new ones. The article at the previous link makes it clear that the danger of Obama’s election is not that he won’t keep his promises; it’s that he will. What else can you expect from someone whose ideological hero’s manifesto is titled Rules for Radicals? And he is likely to appoint judges who have similar intentions, to make sure his radical changes are declared to be “constitutional”.


Unfortunately, it seems that the predictions I made here are coming true.  Obama has made huge changes to the relationship between government, business, and individuals, and seems to plan even larger ones.  FDR used an economic downturn to change the course of America, and we struggle under the programs he set in motion up to this day.   Obama, who only thinks he’s FDR, seems to be going down the same road….  only instead of driving a 1930 Packard, he’s driving a 2009 Corvette….  which he probably “got free” from GM (of course, you actually helped pay for it), and he’s driving us all, pedal to the metal, towards a utopia that never existed, and never will.

Better fasten your seat belt.  Put on a helmet if you have one.  The crash is going to be spectacular.