Excerpts

EXERPTED FROM CHAPTER 2 ON “MALPRACTICE LAWSUITS”

In the Bible (Exodus 21:19) it is written, “And he shall surely cure.” According to the Talmud, these words teach that a person ill enough to require medical attention should seek treatment from a competent physician, and the doctor is obligated to treat the patient. The Talmud highly regards the medical profession. It views physicians as agents of God tending to the lives of the populace. In other cultures as well, curing the sick was always respected as one of man’s most noble callings. A society should therefore do everything possible to encourage and facilitate the study and practice of medicine. The present US malpractice laws, however, are a major disincentive to the practice of clinical medicine…

What is the talmudic position? Should physicians pay for errors they make during treatment?

Talmudic thinking differentiates between physicians who were legally authorized to practice and those who were not. In talmudic law, licensed physicians are not liable, even for preventable mistakes caused by undeniable negligence. But unlicensed doctors are held financially accountable for the same errors (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 336:1). In talmudic times, doctors were licensed by the courts to practice. Today’s equivalents are the medical licensing boards.

Why is this so? Presumably, the Talmud is acknowledging that the world is not a perfect place. Upon occasion, all competent people are guilty of oversights and mistakes. Every so often, excellent drivers cause auto accidents, champion athletes slip-up on the playing field, and so forth. The same is true of medical practitioners. Even a most conscientious and skilled physician might make a rare but glaring mistake that causes patient harm, or even death. Yet, all that moment of carelessness proves is that the doctor is human. Rare lapses of focus, even without an acceptable excuse, are an aspect of the human condition. Accordingly, if a patient was injured as a result of this rare lapse, it is viewed as a random occurrence, or act of God. As such, the responsible doctor should not be blamed or billed. This reality must be taken into account whenever the services of a skilled professional are engaged.

Physicians who were never officially licensed cannot claim, “It was a random occurrence, and I am therefore not liable.” Such people should not be practicing. Hence, they are automatically liable for malpractice unless proven blameless.

Two qualifications must be made. When outright disregard for the patient, such as curing while intoxicated, results in a malpractice event, even licensed doctors would be liable for damages. Unlike an unintended slip-up, this is more akin to willfully damaging the patient. Second, in the event of a medical emergency requiring immediate care where only an unlicensed physician was available, he could treat the patient without fear of liability. All must be done to preserve human life, and he is the most qualified healer available.

A question, however, needs to be raised. This policy would give all board certified physicians the ability to literally get away with murder. They would never have to answer for their mistakes or fear the consequences of their own carelessness. How could the patients be protected?

EXERPTED FROM CHAPTER 4 ON ABORTION

The public policy debate over abortion should therefore be seen in this light: at what point must the law protect the fetus’s right to live just as it protects the lives of those who are already born?…

The struggle over the US’s abortion policy has been one of the most divisive and hotly debated issues of recent decades. I feel that society’s policy on abortion does much to set its moral tone. If the laws are too restrictive, it sends a message that the life and well-being of a mother matters little. If the abortion policy is too permissive, it sends a message that all human life is less than precious. This second message leaves people with a diminished concern for the well-being of others and themselves.

Speaking broadly, the talmudic view of the topic is somewhat complex. It does not forbid abortion under all circumstances, nor does it permit indiscriminate abortion on demand. Instead, in each type of situation it weighs the often contradictory imperatives on whether to abort or not. It might therefore disallow an abortion in one case and require it in another.

EXERPTED FROM CHAPTER 6 ON SUBCONSCIOUS BIAS

To further illustrate the concept of subconscious bias, consider the emotion of anger. Classical talmudic sources (Orchos Tzaddikim, Chapter 22) indicate that many different emotions and character traits can create subconscious bias. One example nearly all people have experienced is the unseen bias created by the emotion of anger. When partners in an otherwise happy marriage or friendship are very angry with each other, insignificant irritants are often illogically interpreted as major provocations. For example, during their period of rage, something minor such as arriving at a destination 10 minutes late might be seen as part of a long-term, ongoing pattern of inconsideration. To an angry partner, this misinterpretation of the lateness seems like rational thought, and no amount of logic will convince him otherwise. Yet, during “peacetime,” the identical provocation is often seen as being meaningless. The same situation becomes two entirely different realities contingent upon whether or not the mind-bending bias of anger is present.Nevertheless, when angry, people are incapable of recognizing how differently they are interpreting the very same scenario…

To further illustrate the psychodynamic of bias, consider the hypothetical case of a judge who was given a major speeding ticket carrying a $400.00 fine. If that judge chooses to contest the matter in court, could he himself be the presiding judge trying the very case he is contesting? All would agree, “Absolutely not! It would be a travesty of justice! How could any judge conduct an impartial trial if he stands to personally gain $400.00 from an acquittal?”

This all calls to mind another talmudic quote, “Be wary of one who gives you advice that benefits him” (Sanhedrin 76b). In other words, all recommendations that also happen to benefit the “advice givers” are automatically suspect. This does not mean that the advice is necessarily mistaken. But it does mean that this type of advice requires extra scrutiny to verify that it isn’t being unwittingly motivated by self-interest…

For a third example of societal bias, consider the tendency of military brass to be partial to more defense spending. The bias of a Navy Admiral might be for a bigger fleet, while for an Army General, it could be for new and more expensive tanks and armored vehicles. Once again, every penny of this spending may be appropriate. In fact, many people throughout the world see the necessity of the US’s military pre-eminence. But when admirals and generals claim that additional money must be spent on weapons, it is, by definition, a bias-tainted opinion. These new acquisitions augment the glory of their command as well as their personal power. In addition, politicians who vote on military spending are often biased toward this spending as well. Bringing home a huge military contract is a major vote-getter due to the jobs created. It is also a major contribution getter from the companies who are awarded the contracts.

As such, when politicians and active duty generals decide alone on military spending, it is akin to the judge presiding over the trial for his $400.00 traffic violation. These insights are not meant as personal criticism of the military or the politicians. To the contrary, great respect and gratitude is due these public servants. The military protects the country, and the politicians govern it. Nevertheless, because the effect of bias is universal and unavoidable, it can alter the thinking of even the world’s wisest and most upright people…

EXERPTED FROM THE ADDENDUM TO CHAPTER 8 ON THE TOPIC OF WHETHER THE US SHOULD HELP TOPPLE DICTATORS

…A related question arises when considering whether to depose a brutal despot, especially when it can be done without bloodshed. Here too there is a strong humanitarian imperative; eliminating a dictator also eliminates his abuse of human rights.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 3ª) writes, “People should not tear down a synagogue until another synagogue is built”. The text is discussing a community in the process of replacing its old temple with a newer and better one. It is teaching that being optimistic and almost certain the new structure will be completed is insufficient. Unforeseen difficulties can arise, and the new temple might not be ready when planned; in fact, it might never be completed at all. Extreme caution is therefore advisable. Hence, before dismantling the old temple, the community should first be certain that the replacement is already built and usable.

This common sense talmudic advice speaks to the issue of abetting the removal of dictators for humanitarian reasons. It might be a good idea when it is certain that the next leader will be more humane. This outcome, though, can rarely be guaranteed. Dictatorships typically have an inner group of individuals at the epicenter of political power. When a position of authority is vacated, a replacement from within that ruling inner circle normally emerges and governs much like the predecessor. Accordingly, it makes little sense for another country to do anything to help forcibly unseat a dictator without first being assured that there will be a more desirable replacement. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Unfortunately, the wisdom of these ideas is often ignored. Consider the late 1970s protest in Iran against the autocratic government of the Shah. President Jimmy Carter inserted himself into the situation, pressuring the Shah to abdicate, all without knowledge of who the next leader would be. Mr. Carter’s “vision” ultimately prevailed, and the mostly secular and pro-US Shah was forced to abdicate. He was replaced by the murderous anti-American Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamic theocracy he established was infinitely more brutal than the Shah’s government. It quickly solidified power by unleashing a prolonged and vicious wave of extortion, torture and murder against dissenting Iranians. Furthermore, that same rogue government now likely poses the single greatest threat to world peace.

EXERPTED FROM CHAPTER 10 ON “CREATING WEALTH”

Economists and politicians manage a country’s money. They set policies on the money supply, government borrowing, interest rates, and so forth. Yet, everybody knows that the money being managed does not flutter down from the sky like snowflakes. This chapter focuses upon how the money gets there in the first place…

To summarize, the Talmud’s recipe for optimal wealth creation is a private citizen, driven by the desire to attain personal wealth, producing more valuable saleable items, from less expensive raw materials, with no government interference or help, in a private enterprise that may possibly fail resulting in total loss

Which segments of a society create wealth, and which do not?

Among those who create wealth are builders, farmers, manufacturers, and software designers… their work transforms objects of lesser worth into items of greater value, thereby creating new wealth…

Examples of those who do not create new wealth are dentists, teachers, policemen, accountants, stock traders, manicurists, and casino operators. Unlike manufacturers who create new value that did not exist before, these people trade their services for preexisting money.

Rather than discussing a country like the USA of 300 million, we will begin examining the issue by creating a simple hypothetical model, a society of two people. One is a manufacturer, and the other is a physician. They begin with $20 apiece, and they must spend $5 per year on food and other necessities such as clothing, shelter, and medical care in order to survive.

Now let us say that over the course of a year the manufacturer produces $20 in new products that are sold overseas and the other person works all year as a doctor. What happened to the group’s bottom line as a whole? It began with their combined starting wealth of $40. $20 of new wealth was created by the manufacturer, and between them, they spent a total of $10.00 on living expenses. Hence, one year later, their total wealth went up by $10, a 25% increase.

The doctor’s year of work, however, did not create wealth. To illustrate, imagine if the manufacturer paid the doctor $5 for a major life-saving surgery. Saving a human life is certainly a noble deed. Yet, as far as the economics involved, money was simply transferred from one pocket to another; the surgeon was enriched by $5, and the patient lost that exact amount. Their society, however, was not enriched by even one penny; it is no wealthier than it would have been had the surgery never taken place. Accordingly, if both members of this hypothetical society are service providers, no matter how profitable their skills, both will eventually face starvation when their combined starting wealth of $40 is depleted by the $10.00 spent yearly on living expenses. After four years, their society will be penniless; they will not even have money to buy food.

EXERPTED FROM CHAPTER 13 ON “THE TAX RATE” WHICH CALLS FOR A FLAT TAX

A currently prevailing idea is that the wealthy should be taxed at a much higher rate, and the super wealthy should be taxed even more. This chapter takes the position that all individuals should pay the same 20%.

I believe that the talmudic idea of a 20% tax paid by all earners is, in fact, more just. Philosophically speaking, a democratic government and its politicians do not own even one penny of the public’s hard-earned money. In essence, it mainly levies taxes in order to fund government services required by the public. For example, without a police presence, looting and anarchy break out, so tax money is spent to fund police departments. When both the rich and poor are taxed at the same rate, the rich are paying far more for the same benefit. The 20% tax on one who earns $50 million a year is $10 million, for someone earning $50 thousand, it is $10 thousand. Both receive the same police protection for their tax dollars. Yet, “$50 million” is paying 1,000 times more than “$50,000” for that same government service. This is enough! (The government doesn’t charge “$50 million” 1,000 times more than the other fellow for some of its other services such as using a toll road.) Furthermore, over 50% of the 2009 US Federal Budget was spent on entitlements. Unlike police protection that all people require, this spending does not benefit the rich at all. Yet, that same wealthy individual is already contributing a thousand times more for these programs as well. The notion that the rich should be paying yet more than that to fund government entitlements seems more akin to robbery than taxation.

EXERPTED FROM CHAPTER 14 ON “WHAT GOVERNMENTS SHOULD GOVERN”

(Regarding the book’s idea that the government should discontinue most of its student aid for higher education:)  Some may argue that terminating most government aid to students will make university education unaffordable to many if not most US citizens. Higher education would then be for the wealthy only, fostering unavoidable if not irreversible class divisions within the US.

My answer is that the very opposite is true. For decades, the cost of college tuition has risen at a far greater rate than inflation. I believe this is largely due to the ready availability of government student aid. The universities know that almost all students will be able to pay for their education with government help. As a result, they have the freedom to ignore free market realities, namely, the imperative to provide the best product for the lowest price. If, however, government aid for education was mostly terminated, the universities would be forced to, in effect, sell their product in a far more competitive environment. To raise the academic standing of their schools, they would stop admitting uneducable students, eliminate frivolous degree programs, strengthen the course offerings in the vital subjects, and slash costs whenever possible. The nationwide end result would be an altogether higher quality American university system that is also far more affordable.

(On the need to slash government entitlements:) Such assistance was a once deemed a personal rather than a governmental duty. There was no such thing as Medicare and Medicaid before President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” and there was no Social Security before President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”

Currently, these incredibly expensive public assistance programs are literally choking the life out of the US economy, and their already unmanageable costs continue growing exponentially. For certain, this spending will soon end. The only question is whether it will be stopped by choice before it drives the country into bankruptcy or afterward when the economic collapse will end this and almost all other spending, governmental and private.