O'Neill: U.S. lacking leadership
Paul O'Neill is on a one-man crusade to change the national dialogue about America's problems, including ballooning national debt, a health care system that injures patients and an education system that's failing many students.
“This is what I wish our politicians were talking about,” O'Neill, former Alcoa Inc. CEO and Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, said on Tuesday.
Speaking to the Economic Club of Pittsburgh, O'Neill told the audience of about 50 people that the only way to fix those three problems is through strong leadership that's willing to address the fundamental inefficiency in each system.
Take the complicated federal tax code, which is “proof that we are not an intelligent people,” he said. It costs the government about $420 billion a year to administer, under-collects by about $400 billion and doesn't raise enough money to cover federal spending. Expenses have outpaced revenue by more than a trillion dollars for the last four years.
O'Neill would throw out the tax code, which he said totals some 60,000 pages, and replace it with a value-added tax, which applies to purchases of goods and services.
It's nearly impossible to avoid paying a value-added tax and it's much less costly for the government to oversee, he said. And it could be structured in a progressive way so that the poor would pay a smaller percentage on their purchases than the rich.
Another example of government inefficiency is the Dodd-Frank Act, O'Neill said. The 2010 law was passed to bring new regulation to Wall Street and the banking industry in an effort to prevent another financial crisis.
The law is about 2,500 pages long, but really only needs to be two pages, he said. The first page would state that all homebuyers must provide a 20 percent down-payment to get a mortgage. The second page would require all financial institutions to keep 20 percent equity in the bank.
Those two provisions “would forever prevent” another financial crisis because homeowners and banks would be substantially insulated from a drop in prices and prevented from taking on more debt than they could handle.
In health care, O'Neill said there is room for significant gains in productivity that could improve the quality of health care and reduce cost. He said the average hospital nurse spends half of his or her time performing activities not directly related to patient care, which leads to patient falls, infections and medication errors.
“There is no area in our society where there is more opportunity for productivity improvement than in health care,” he said.
He was particularly critical of UPMC, Western Pennsylvania's dominant hospital system, which has been touting its inclusion in U.S. News and World Report's ranking of the top 10 hospital systems in the country.
The magazine ranking is “a popularity contest, not a quality referee,” O'Neill said. He suggested UPMC remove banners advertising the ranking and replace them with digital signs showing how long it's been since one of the health system's patients contracted an infection from its hospitals.
“That would make a difference,” he said. “They wouldn't get above five minutes.”
UPMC officials disputed O'Neill's characterization of the U.S. News ranking and said the health system is a leader in reducing hospital-acquired infections.
“When UPMC benchmarks itself on two common hospital-acquired infections — central line associated bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections — we are significantly below the national and state infection rates,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer. “We continue to strive toward elimination of all infections to protect the health and safety of our patients.”
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or email@example.com.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hog Father’s eatery chain ferries barbecue to workers at gas well pads
- ESPN sues Verizon over unbundling plan for FiOS
- Mylan rejects Teva’s $40 billion takeover bid
- Mixed economy likely means no Fed rate hike soon
- Oil’s rebound pushes up price at gas pumps
- Stocks slide in busy week of quarterly earnings reports
- Starbucks glitch that closed stores shows reliance on registers
- Nike, Under Armour invest in watching exercisers’ steps
- N.Y. firm set to buy second Downtown office building
- Paper’s prevalence unlikely to diminish
- DeVry shift to online classes prompts closing of Pittsburgh campus