“We need to stop these elderly voters from living alone, starving by eating cat food, and unable to get around!” bellowed the Senator triumphantly, hoping this desperate gambit would save his career. Otherwise, he’d be the one eating cat food alone in a one-room apartment, waiting for visits from the products of his terrible parenting who would never arrive.
In the way of democracy, the other politicians in the room panicked. To approve this measure opened a can of financial and regulatory worms, but to deny it was to appear to hate the elderly, which meant that they would all be voted out of office. Retired people have nothing to look forward to but (1) “early bird” specials at Luby’s and (2) going to the voting booth with fire and vengeance in their bleary eyes. Politicians offend this demographic at their peril.
So the law hit the books: government would provide health insurance and benefits for the retired who needed them. Like rewards for minorities, the poor and wayward immigrants, this new form of welfare would cost a huge amount of money at first, and a lot more later. But there were ripple effects too.
First was its hidden cost to government. Introduce a new program like that, and you have to hire many thousands to administer it. Then there are many lawyers who now become expert in it, and many more lawsuits. Everybody gets rich. But then, every government agency and every company out there has to hire its own bureaucrats and lawyers to deal with this new program. If you have workers, you are part of the program now… or if you deal with workers, or rent to workers, or sell to workers… because at some point, they will be retired. That’s legalistic thinking for you.
Employers reacted too. If Uncle Sam is paying retirement benefits, the company benefits are no longer achieving their goal, which is as a bargaining chip to bring talented labor into the company. So those go. And then, because of raised costs, other things go too. They need to streamline to hire all those lawyers and bureaucrats.
But now the real fight begins. Everyone wants to be qualified under the new program. But because the law has to be limited, some are not. In come the lawyers, and the media with sob stories, and the outside consultants. Soon the program is many times its original size. So the politicians come up with a “good” idea, which is to make lots of rules. They put out a rulebook with 30,000 pages of regulations on every conceivable topic.
Of course, they forgot that rules are like coral reefs to lawyers and bureaucrats. The more lines in that rulebook, the more exceptions there are and the more ways there are to make money off the system. This means more court cases and lawsuits, and more going back to the negotiating table for politicians. It’s money for everyone, they think.
Down in the “Anteroom to Heaven,” otherwise known as retirement paradise Florida, a guy and his nephew — who is a lawyer — look over the new rules. The rules list twenty conditions under which people can purchase motorized scooters. But these guys zoom in on just two: they must have “mobility issues” and be “under medical care.”
The lawyer shrugs. “Sounds to me like anyone who has any trouble getting around, and who gets a note from their doctor, can get one of these. We’d better incorporate that scooter business now.”
They do that, and then they go around to all the retirement homes. They hand out fliers. They do free consultations. They sign up two million people for motorized scooters within a decade, make a fortune, and sell the business so they can retire. About this time someone in Washington, D.C. finally notices the vast hemorrhaging of money, which has happened because Uncle Sam pays first, then asks for the money back if you did it wrong.
And so we get to the present day, where all of these supposedly intelligent people are standing around shrugging as to how the great motor scooter scam could have happened:
Members of Congress say the ads lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary spending by Medicare, which is only supposed to pay for scooters when seniors are unable to use a cane, walker or regular wheelchair. Government inspectors say up to 80 percent of the scooters and power wheelchairs Medicare buys go to people who don’t meet the requirements. And doctors say more than money is at stake: Seniors who use scooters unnecessarily can become sedentary, which can exacerbate obesity and other disorders.
Nobody wins. And yet nobody is going to criticize this process, because to do so is to implicate democracy itself. At every step of the process, the logic of democracy was present: pandering to the victim group, writing the vague law, creating a labyrinth of byzantine regulations that ended up favoring the bad guys. This is not an exceptional case; it’s business as usual, and they did it on your dime.