Saturday, September 16, 2006

My visit to the Oklahoma State Fair

I went to the Oklahoma State Fair today. I recently listened in on an NPR broadcast about how state fairs are dying off. Attendance is down nationwide. Honestly, I am not sure why.

I attend the state fair every year. This year's fair seemed a little better than last year's fair; but a couple of year's ago, they changed a lot about the fair -- some for the better, some for the worse. An old decaying monorail was dismantled. Back when it was built, it was supposed to represent the future of mass transportation. But that idea never really took off -- Las Vegas excepted.

Another thing they ended was the International Photography Show. The photos they had this year were pretty good, and I sensed an improvement from last year, but the largest collection this year was of flowers. The only collection from professional photographers were of nature scenes and photos of architecture. Don't get me wrong; I love photos of nature and interesting architecture as well. But I wish the photos that gave me an overseas perspective -- that challenged my understanding of the world -- were shown too. I realize I can get my fix on, but it was still nice to be able to look at it museum-style.

One nice aspect of the fair this year was the string quartet from the local Oklahoma City Philharmonic orchestra -- two violinists, a violist and a cellist. It was a nice addition/change from the normal fair. Philharmonic music is not my cup of tea all the time, but it is nice that we have an orchestra here. However, I have to confess, I don't avail myself of the opportunity to see them often enough.

There was the traditional fare of merchants hawking their wares. There were a few things that I knew were marketed at the fair that I am wanting, so I went to check them out. One of the things I went to look at was the new cars that were coming out. Every year at the fair, new car dealers set up showrooms to show off their new models.

Anyway, I went to look at the new hybrid vehicles. I had to laugh internally when a saleman who was showing a Toyota Prius told everyone that the value of the used Priuses has not gone down from its new price in the last year. I told him that, if you knew where to look, you could get a used one for far less than the dealership. I got into a conversation with him regarding the declining domestic auto market and how U.S. automakers are not responding to customers who want Prius-style economical cars. He responded how it was all the "union's fault;" That if it wasn't for labor unions, U.S. automakers would have no problem competing. "They have outlived their usefulness," he said. I told him how his car company, Toyota, had relocated a plant from the southern U.S., where wages are generally lower, to Canada, a country that has, if anything, stronger unions. Furthermore, I told him, one of Toyota's main stated reasons they moved to Canada was its national health care system. One of the main complaints Toyota had was the cost of health care here in America.

Another reason to support national health care -- competitiveness in international markets that involve manufactured goods.

Now, to be fair to U.S. automakers, Toyota has the advantage of a younger work force. Many of GM's and Ford's workers are nearing retirement age. Therefore, because of the U.S. system is set up the way it is, it is only natural that annuity costs and health care costs will be greater for an industry that has an aging workforce. On the other hand, America's corporations bargained for this -- however many years ago it was -- because, back then, and in the short term, it helped their bottom line.

Now, many corporations will argue that the money that was set aside (or not, many pensions are underfunded) for pensions and health care never belonged the workers. The problem with that is that in contract law, a third-party, who is not a party to a contract, can still make a claim as a third-party beneficiary. The U.S. courts have not recognized such a right for workers, as far as I know.

The salesman seemed genuinely shocked that the top cause of bankruptcy was medical bills. He had suggested that companies setting up savings plans for their employees would solve the health care problem. I told him that it wouldn't solve the problem of 45+ million Americans who don't have health care to begin with; and besides, the health insurance they are required to buy has very high deductibles and requires them to cover 20% of the cost after their deductible.

As I was keeping the salesman from doing what he was there to do -- namely sell cars -- he quickly tried to find a way out of the conversation. I understood. I was keeping him from making money, and it was really busy in there. He ended the conversation politely by telling me that I had a unique and interesting perspective. I suppose he is right; not everyone is an attorney who does bankruptcies and personal injury work and can see that our system could be so much more efficient with the implementation of a national health care system.

I bet you, the reader, never expected that my story about my trip to the fair would turn into a discourse about the need for national health care (again). Honestly, I didn't either. However, the salesman's statement is a very common perception here in Oklahoma -- namely that unions are the whole cause of America's lack of competitiveness in world markets. Writing this blog is one way I hope to add to the discussion that people have about, among other things, the pension and health care crisis.


karl said...

One of the hardest things about starting a small business is finding affordable health insurance. universal coverage might help America get back the entrepunureal spirit.

OkieLawyer said...

Very good point, Karl. Also, with the new bankruptcy law, the risk of starting a new business has gone up. A subject I plan to cover in a future column.

karl said...

The ownership society seems to hinder the American dream rather than creat it.

Anonymous said...

So you shift the high cost of health care from paying an insurance company to paying much more taxes. Either hurts your company. The money will be paid, either to directly or indirectly.

OkieLawyer said...

Yes, it is true that National Health Care would shift the cost from the private sector to taxation, but there would be savings in stability of cost containment, economies of scale, efficiencies from the standardization of submitted forms for payment, larger risk pools, reduced stress levels from no longer needing collection agencies to collect delinquent medical debt and whole host of other things I can't think of right now.

See my other posts on health care (see sidebar) for more examples.