Is the medicare rebate middle class welfare?

I should start by saying this piece is more of debate about ideology rather than economics. The medicare offset known commonly as the medicare rebate can be seen as a subsidy of 30% to the holders of private health insurance. These people are mostly middle class or in a high income bracket. However, many people, especially those with health issues choice to purchase a private health insurance policy despite not having a high income. Alternatively, the policy could be seen as a way of giving health consumers choice. In that if people decide to insure themselves privately they can at least claim a deduction on their tax for the cost of the policy allowing them to pay with their gross income rather than net.

How a tax offset differs from a deduction is that a deduction reduces a persons reportable income on their tax return and results in a reduction of tax of whatever the top marginal tax rate the consumer was paying. So assuming the person who bought the policy was earning 200k the deduction would be 45% plus a reduction in of the medicare levy making a total tax deduction of 46.5% of the policy cost. This would mean that the wealthy would get a bigger deduction for purchasing health insurance than people not paying the top marginal tax rate. An offset instead is a blanket 30% of the policy cost regardless of who buys it. It’s for this reason and to reduce the cost of the policy the Howard Government would have chosen to have an offset rather than a deduction.

This with the fact its commonly known as a rebate has seen this policy portrayed as middle class welfare. This with the private vs public school debate really comes down to the question should people be able to opt out of government provided services? Clearly in health people still continue to benefit partially by the public system and will still continue to receive benefits from it, but should people who choose to partially seek healthcare through the private market be made to pay the full cost of the public system that they now are far less likely to use. Many people have the view yes, if people choose to use private services than they should still contribute 100% to the public system and receive no assistant/deduction for their private expenditure.

Another argument that is often used is the claim that people should pay their fair share. Too often a person’s fair share is their share and about four other peoples share and then are to be told they can’t access the service they paid for becomes of a means test. It’s apparent that the expansion of middle class welfare in the late Howard years was a response to the fact the middle class felt they were paying taxes into a system that wasn’t interested in helping them or their family.

As a libertarian I believe in a perfect world much more of the health system would be left to the private market with competitive pressures rather than a system that helps line the pockets of the medical profession. (I believe we do need a public helathcare system, probably similar to what Queensland had pre Medicare) However, we do not have that system, we probably will never have that system as the average person does not under that government funding of many medical services in the long run raises the price of those services. So as a next best solution those people who do not want take a chance with government waiting lists is to allow them to choose to access services through the private market. By allowing a 30% rebate of private health insurance means the individual gets a small deduction of their tax as an incentive, while they still continue to pay the medicare levy and a significant proportion of their taxes still goes towards funding the system.

Negative Income Tax – An alternative to the welfare system?

I’m currently on holidays and have decided to spend my time productively, watching Milton Friedman’s hit 1980s series Free to Choose. About two years ago, I stumbled across a copy of the companion book for this series in an OP shop. I quickly grabbed hold of the book and guarded it in case someone else wanted to buy it. Surprisingly, the book looked like it had been on the shelf for a while and it did not create the kind of excitement used copies of Harry Potter can cause. The bewildered shopkeeper seemed surprised at my excitement. On another another occasion a staff member at an op shop seemed amazed when I was clearly excited buying a TI-84 programmable calculator for only $10.

Anyway, Friedman in an episode about the welfare state raised the prospect of a negative income tax. I have provided a link to information on this idea but basically instead of having welfare payments and a massive welfare bureaucracy to administer it, you would instead get paid the equivalent of your tax free threshold and the low income offset in cash if you weren’t working and this would be phased out the more income one earns. The idea is that this would remove many of the perverse barriers to work that the interaction between the welfare system and the tax system currently produce. It would also be dramatically cheaper, Centrelink and the Employment Services industry would be largely abolished leaving only minimal paperwork to confirm how much income one earned.

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Creative Destruction and How it impacts on our lives.

So often in the news we hear of some formerly successful industry going bust. Trade unions and industry groups lobby hard for their industry to be saved through government intervention. A recent example in Australia and globally has been bookstores. I remember my excitement when the first Borders opened in the Brisbane CBD. I could buy a mocha caramel-latte at Gloria Jeans, choose from a range of specialty books that were never offered in Brisbane before. Having an interest in management literature, it wasn’t long before a had a large library of business titles and career development books.

Books would cost between $20-30 and textbooks could be up to the cost up $100. Now ten years on, Borders has gone bust and rumor has it that the building will become one of those ghastly Apple stores. Sorry, couldn’t resist. This is where creative destruction comes in. The Oxford economic dictionary describes creative destruction as, “A model of economic growth driven by quality-improving innovations that make old technologies or products obsolete.”

That pretty much describes my once beloved Borders, obsolete. I now have two new superior ways of buying books, first, Better World Books and second Amazon kindle. For my studies I have only bought one new textbook in 2 years. Others, I have bought secondhand on Better World books. Technology has allowed me to connect with bookstore all over America where slack students have foolishly sold their old textbooks allowing me to buy them for between $10-$20. Amazon Kindle has allowed me to purchase new books at a fraction of the price I would have paid at Borders.

This technological innovation has dramatically increased my consumer surplus. Not only in quantity but in quality. I recently was preparing for a job interview as a Business Analyst and realised I didn’t have sufficient skills using Microsoft Excel. In the bad old days, I would have driven to the bookstore, not found a book that really covered what I wanted and would have settled for some more basic book about Excel with a few accounting formulas in it. Instead, I went to the Amazon Kindle store, within five minutes I had a book called Business Analysis in Microsoft Excel 2010. I could read reviews about the book confirming the books quality and ensuring the author handled the topic well. This book covered everything I needed, there would have been almost no chance of me finding such a book in a bookstore in Australia.

From a bookstores point of view had they had such a book it would have sat on their shelf for months waiting for an econ nerd like me to come in, if I had come in at all. The price would have been significantly higher to cover the much higher costs of having that inventory sitting on their bookstores shelf for so long. So technological innovation increased the quantity of products I could choose from and lowered the price. Creative destruction.