Bill Maher is a relatively famous television personality. Of course, he got this position by correctly realizing that he wasn’t a very good standup comedian and his real talent was getting famous people on TV and then making fun of them or using them as foils to make a political point. He has bounced around a couple of different venues and has currently landed at HBO. His show is called “Real Time with Bill Maher”. He has used this notoriety and fame to also publish some of his remarks and is a frequent contributor to Huffington Post. His latest article is the subject of this post.
Originally, I only wanted to reply to Bill Maher in his comments section. However, Huffington Post limits comments to a small number of words so I am forced to make further comments here. You can read my original thoughts at this link as there are currently over 2500 comments on this article and it would be difficult to find mine. You may also want to read Bill’s original article before you read my comments.
Bill’s opening comment starts out all wrong. He says “Not everything in America has to make a profit” and while this is true, I am not aware of any time in America’s history when it was discussed that something could NOT make a profit. Doesn’t it seem very un-American to decree that a certain portion of our economy is not eligible to make a profit?
When the very unfunny Bill Maher mentions the war profiteering problem, he forgets that at the time we were a very agrarian society and not even close to the world power that we are today – in fact we were probably not even ranked in the top 10 most powerful nations. Can we have one without the other? Do we want to live in that world again? Really, do you? Think about it Maher.
Yes, I understand that there is a concern over Haliburton and other companies that were awarded contracts in the MidEast without open bids. But he includes this discussion in an article that talks about not making a profit, which implies he thinks that government contractors and service providers should not make a profit.
The term “war profiteering” was really a big concern back in the two world wars when rationed goods were required. With any rationed good there are, inevitably, ways to make lots of profit if you can find a supply of the rationed goods and sell them outside of the system. It was also a time when over-charging for military goods was easy to do. In fact, then Senator Harry S. Truman made his big mark by chairing a committee that was designed to go after profiteers. But even Mr. Truman didn’t want to eliminate profit from the process, he just wanted to eliminate the corruption of charging for goods and services in unfair manners.
Does Mr. Maher really want to eliminate the profit potential of companies that do work for the United States? Will he be able to delineate those that offer services to the military versus those that offer services to other branches of the government?
While it is important to make sure that we are getting value out of our government spending, I doubt that most people (aside from Mr. Maher) would want no profit to be made in the process. At the time of the big worry on war profiteering, approximately 20% of the workforce was in agrarian efforts but by 1970 it was about 4%. To make matters worse, a decade or two before the world wars (but definitely in the memory of most alive at the time) over 40% of the workforce as agricultural based and we were not considered to be a world power at all. In fact, prior to WW1, the real powers of the world resided in Europe. This change from an agrarian society that was not a force in the world to a world power in 40 years was fraught with danger of profiteering and therefore a real concern to everyone.
He then goes into prisons that make a profit. Does he really think that the reason that we have a lot of people in prison is because of the profit making of CCA? Come on, Bill. That simply doesn’t make sense. There are approximately 2M people in prison in this country and according to CCA’s website only 75,000 of them are in their care. If CCA has such a huge influence do you think that they would have a larger market share than under 4%? Are the other 96% of the convicted criminals incarcerated the real felons and CCA is only getting the CCA influenced laws? This is a perfect example of Bill Maher simply not thinking before he talks/writes.
Bill then goes after journalism and he dreams of the good old days. He dreams of when real journalists were like Walter Cronkite, may he rest in peace. That was an era with little competition for TV. There were 3 stations, no Internet, only AM radio, 2 newspapers in every town, only 2-3 movies came out a month AND LIFE magazine was a thriving concern.
The reason that News didn’t make money was because it didn’t have to make money. Bill is correct, it was a loss leader because people watched it and it drug people to watch the Entertainment divisions products which did make money. Now it needs the Entertainment division to pull the viewers to the 11 o’clock news. A regular complaint of station owners is when the Entertainment division of their network has fallen behind in market share it affects the 11 o’clock news profitability.
The profitability of News v. Entertainment was never a philanthropic effort on the part of the big networks. Quite the opposite, it was a concerted effort to drag in viewers and achieve the highest gains that they could.
And then Bill, the lover and worshipper of Michael Moore, gets to his real agenda (because the above junk is not really a problem anyway) – healthcare. Bill is one of those that doesn’t think that it is fair to make a profit from running a service in the health sector because if you are sick then you have to go to a doctor and get better. You don’t have a choice so it is morally wrong to charge more than your costs.
But that is precisely where Maher blew it in his utopian dream rant. He specifically discussed healthcare and made the reference to going to a Catholic hospital. Yes, there was little motive for profit BUT there was little interference from the government, as well. How do you get from the times were great in the past without interference from government and now the only way to get better is to make government bigger?
If you read some of the comments in Mr. Maher’s columns you will see them chastise insurance companies. Mr. Maher only makes one reference to an insurance company in his column but instead spends time lambasting HCA, an operator of hospitals.
Of course, he doesn’t take it to the next step and look at food. If you don’t eat then you will die so this is a requirement of life as well. Therefore, if we follow Bill’s thought pattern then Kroger and WalMart should operate as non-profits as well. To continue this logic, then surely the power utility provider should operate as a non-profit since you need electricity to heat/cool your home and we wouldn’t want them to take advantage of you. And since the majority of people in the US need clothing to survive the elements at least during part of the year, no one should make money on winter coats, scarves, hats, boots, etc.
And even if you buy the absurd argument that all of that should be free from profit then where do you stop. Does the thread provider that provides the thread for your coat need to operate as non-profit? And the trucking company that hauls vegetables from the farm to your local grocery store, should he succumb to non-profit status as well?
And what about the nurse that works hard and cares for the child with the broken leg at the hospital? Should she work for only enough to fulfill her basic needs? If so, doesn’t that make her a ward of the state? Is that the goal of Mr. Maher?
So when we get down to following the logic of Bill Maher (and the more confused Michael Moore), who is allowed to make money these days? Why of course, Bill Maher and Michael Moore are!