Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dylan Ratigan - Greedy Bastards (Simon & Shuster)

I have always found the portrayal of Conservatives as “angry white guys” entertaining and misguided. Grab your Advil, tune in MSNBC, which is guaranteed to induce a headache, and soak up to nearly non-stop anger and bitterness of the cavalcade of Liberal hosts.
That is the point you have to start from when you read Greedy Bastards by Dylan Ratigan, host of MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show, described by the press materials accompanying the book as “one of the highest-rated, daytime shows on the network.” Talk about damning with faint praise…given the cable news channel’s less than stellar audience numbers.

In Greedy Bastards, Ratigan attempts to details his perspective on our “broken system.” He runs down what ails a wide variety of problems ranging from banking to the stock market and healthcare to big oil/energy. Taking off on his crusade to remove money from politics, Ratigan attempts to draw correlations between the root cause of the problem and the flow of cash to politicians.

I don’t disagree! But I do find it interesting that Ratigan spent much of his early career as a financial journalist covering Wall Street yet he didn’t do a whole lot to raise red flags about the ridiculous Ponzi schemes and outright fraudulent financial instruments that the folks he was charged with covering were creating that became part and parcel of the financial meltdown tsunami that mowed down the housing, banking, finance and insurance industries in it’s wake. These guys created a financial house of cards that got a total pass from the regulators and politicians that wrap themselves in the cloak of looking out for the little guy and Ratigan stood idly by and said nothing until now.

Full disclosure; my day job is in the healthcare industry, so I read that section of the book with great interest. Ratigan lays out a classic example of his friend “Larry” who was clearly suffering a repetitive stress hand injury and was offered medical advice to address the issue with physical therapy which would have offered some relief. “Larry” decided not to follow through on the exercises that were recommended…let me stress that point; “Larry” decided not to follow through on the exercises that were recommended, and later needed to have surgery to solve the problem. It seems more than a bit ridiculous to indict the entire industry based on a patient choice.
Surprisingly, Ratigan does offer up a market based solution to the problem of the high cost of healthcare, rather than turning to the government to fix the problem. He advocates for a solution that I have pushed for many years; allowing market forces of health savings accounts and patient choices to drive down the cost of healthcare through competition and increasing quality.
The roadblock to most solutions tends to be the government and a HUGE increase in regulation. Ratigan bemoans some regulation, while pushing for new regulations, never accounting to the very real costs of those regulations and the fact that regulatory costs get passed through the so-called “greedy bastards” and get paid by the end-users.
The cartoonish cover may not have been the best choice, because it sets the tone for Ratigan’s BAM, BIFF, POW, approach; skimming the surface of very real issues, yet not really offering much in the way of in-depth solutions to the problems. Instead he chooses to nibble around the edges of solutions or offering up tried and failed solutions; like the electric car to solve the so-called energy crisis.
The real solution is not getting money out of politics, which is a limitation on free speech. The real solution is an energized, alert and informed electorate that pays attention and calls their elected officials when the put self-interest over public interest and an electorate that understands that the government is not the source of solving problems, but the source of creating problems.

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