Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Why do taxpayers put up with this?

The Medicare levy (plus, I’m guessing, a slice of the consolidated revenue as well) is there to fund two things – visits to doctors and treatment at public hospitals – yes?

Err, not exactly: it turns out that so-called public hospitals have been quietly getting into private-bit-on-the-side game. In a third-world country, this would be correctly recognised and abhorred as corruption, but in Australia in 2004, the main grievance seems to be that the bribes (for that is the correct word) paid to queue-jump for an operation in a public hospital are a bit too financially open-ended. Well, derr.

Would there be more of an outcry if public schools adopted a similar modus operandi? A plausible such set-up could work like this: 9am to 3pm would be spent as online study (= no qualified staff required to supervise) and play/sport (ditto), while 3pm to 5pm would be dedicated classroom time for the “private” students.

The school, its babysitters and teachers – who would split the “private” students revenue something like 40/20/40 – could scrupulously argue that the private students were in no way displacing public students. The media (inter- and intra-net) lounge where the private brigade spend their pre-3pm indoor hours would be built from dedicated funds, while recreation/eating breaks would always be scheduled for when the public kids were in class. Brilliant, eh?

As to why a family would chose to go “private” in a public school under my model, well, you do the math. Only two teacher-contact hours a day would certainly be a broad winner with the kids (and the effective bonus of two hours “free” babysitting would be a winner in all families with no at-home parent), but what about academic standards? Ah, don’t worry – the magic of the market will fix all that. Meaning that never mind the public kids getting nominally more contact hours, it is an iron law of economics that a service provided for “free” cannot exceed, or even be equivalent with, the quality of a side-by-side, paid-for service. In other words, the market will see to it that the quality of the “free” service is appropriately diluted. After all, the rationality of paying to queue-jump is predicated on the queue having ceased to be just that – instead becoming a dis-ordered, dis-informed rabble.

Only one thing has stopped, and will yet stop, my above scenario from becoming a reality. Most public school teachers have ethics – clearly unlike public hospital administrators and staff (to work, in whatever role, for an entity that accepts queue-jumping bribes is to be complicit in the corruption).

Meanwhile, there is a missing voice in all this: the taxpayer, who in good faith funds a public system, only to find that it is methodically being run into the ground by its ostensible servants.

Today is my dole form day. My state of mind at the moment is very pessimistic, as far as ever working again goes. Under my thinking, there are only another 640 or so dole forms to go and I’ll be home free (= of pensionable age). I’ve long thought that the taxpayers of Australia might prefer not to be paying for such a long period of institutionalisation-without-walls. Today, I’m not nearly so sure – not only did about 90% of Australian taxpayers recently vote for parties hostile to the goal of full employment, the great mass also seem content to stand idly by while the hospital industry openly and contemptuously pisses their taxes against the wall.

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