Monday, March 29, 2010

OPM, horse races and middle school

OPM - Other peoples money- otherwise known as opium- an addictive substance extracted from seed capsules of the opium poppy

The definition of OPM, as it relates to politicians, should be an addictive narcotic, such as taxes, taxes, and more taxes, extracted from Americans, and then spent addictively to enhance their own chances of being re-elected.

In all fairness, I used to suffer from OPM. But it was in my teen years, so please do not hold it against me. When I was in middle school, my father used to take me to the race track to bet on the horses. He would stake me $20 to bet on the ten horse races of the day. Now even in middle school, I could do the math. My father wisely put me on a budget of $2 a race, so I would be able to bet on a horse in each of the ten races. You see, if I ran out of money before the last race, I would get bored, and start annoying my father while he was trying to hit the trifecta on the last race. So $20 it was, and being the wonderful child I was, I stuck to the budget.

Now if I got lucky, and actually won a race, I would have extra to bet on future races, or to keep as winnings. Since I was only in middle school, and did not have any money of my own, and was also not of legal age to gamble, my father placed the bets for me. So what actually occurred was that my father would make my bets for me, with the twenty dollars that were actually his!!

So what happened?

How did I manage the $20?

First let me go into how a middle school child, with no skin in the game, budgets at the race track.

Regardless of outcomes, win or lose, each day we would go to the track, I would get another $20 to bet. The frugal guy that I was realized that I started with none of my own money, so if I ended with nothing, I lost nothing. I had no skin in the game. So, whether I got lucky, which rarely occurred, and won a few races and had $40 left for the final race, or as would usually happen, I lost most of the races and only had $2 remaining for the final race, I would invariably go for broke. There were no downsides. I got to play the horses with my father's twenty bucks! If I lost and went home with nothing, it was exactly what I started with.

So now, being an adult, I look back at those days, and ask myself these questions.

Would my decision to go for broke on the last race still have occurred, if my father did not always give me $20 more each time we went to the track?

Would my decision to go for broke on the last race still have occurred if my father allowed me to keep any amount over the initial $20 he staked me at the beginning?

Would my decision to go for broke on the last race still have occurred if my father allowed me to keep all money left after the last race, including the initial $20?

Would I even gamble if it was my money that I was gambling?

As you answer these questions, let me make a leap of faith and use the logic, or lack thereof, of my betting patterns, with our politicians and the healthcare reform law just passed..

Politicians are making go for broke bets, with our tax money, because they assume they can always come back to us and get more. The politicians have no skin in the game, so they do not see any downside to profligate spending. Politicians, in essence, are acting like I did, when I was a middle school student. They see a neverending amount of money coming to them each year to spend, and spend it they do. They go for broke each year, because there are no downsides. They will just get more to spend the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and so on and so on......

And why not, they are not spending their own money, but are spending other peoples money, opm. Unfortunately for taxpayers, it is our money they are spending!!

The new healthcare reform law actually spends a greater percentage of OPM, by putting limits on out-of-pocket medical expenses for individuals and families, and with large government subsidies. This will further shelter individuals from the true costs of healthcare, thereby raising demand, raising costs, and further worsening the upward curve in healthcare inflation.

To me, it comes down to individual responsibility. We need to put the power of the healthcare dollar back in the hands of individuals. Each individual needs to have skin in the game, and be responsible. If they need assistance, the government can give them help with a health savings account to budget for themselves, backed by a catastrophic insurance policy. If they know this savings account will not automatically be replenished, they may budget themselves responsibly, and make better and healthier decisions!

Final question:

Who is better at budgeting expenses?

Government or individuals?

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