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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Irrational Debate

Many Democrats are upset with the current tone of the Health Care debate. In their opinion, those who oppose Health Care Reform are being noisy, disruptive, and irrational. For example, someone I know wrote the following on another forum I frequent:
"I don't have a problem with rational arguments and debate on these issues. One of my previous posts suggested that Reps [Republicans] choice [sic] to use lies and fear probably guaranteed a poorer final result than the decision for them to present rational arguments and advance the solution in a positive way."
The Health Care debate starts with assumptions about how the world works (for example, what motivates different people) and even more importantly, personal subjective preferences. Rationality and reason have little to do with either of those, especially the latter. Since there is little common ground between liberals and conservatives on these premises, it's no surprise that the conclusions are totally opposite as well.

Just to be clear, both liberals and conservatives want peace on earth, good will to men, prosperity and happiness for all, etc., etc., yadda, yadda. So it might seem like there is substantial common ground, at least regarding the desirability of various Ends.

However, where there is precious little common ground is whether or not it's possible to achieve any of these desirable Ends or anything close. Note that a belief that such Ends are unachievable precludes rational discussion about the path to get there. There often simply isn't one, in my opinion.

My observations of politics coupled with trading futures (which led to a large number of hours studying economics and public choice theory) have completely convinced me that, on average, new and expanded government programs, taxes, and/or regulations hurt me and my family (and others) in the short term and the vast majority of people in the longer term.

As a result, from my point of view, there really isn't any point to "rational" discussion. That's because the rational discussion is inherently limited to those details that can be reasonably foreseen. What can't be rationally discussed is all of the unforeseen problems that will ultimately occur because nobody knows what they'll end up being. The foreseen effects of a 1,000+ page policy are just the tip of the iceberg. It's the huge mass of problems lurking below the surface about which we're currently clueless that will be the real problem and there can't be meaningful debate about that which is unknown by all.

In fact, stooping to rationally debate what's known is counterproductive. It requires a certain level of buy-in to the program that isn't warranted.

I reject the Health Care Reforms being proposed, but I have no rational reason for doing so.


David said...

I think what's going on here is that, for the Dems and the left, it's just self-evident that US healthcare needs reform. It's a fact like gravity is a fact. It is equally obvious that we're going to end up with an European style program ultimately, so we might as well get there sooner rather than later.

So they're willing -- and see themselves as magnanimous as being willing -- to negotiate the details with us. Maybe go a little slower than necessary, maybe keep private insurance around a little longer than is optimal, etc.

The idea that we don't want to screw around with the system at all, and that we don't agree that the NHS is inevitable, is driving them 'round the bend. It's like we're denying gravity, or evolution. The only possible reason for denying something so self-evident is that we're evil or dupes or evil dupes.

Bret said...

Well, I guess that if they're being magnanimously willing to debate details with me and I'm telling 'em to stuff it, I can see how they'd be annoyed. But they have the power, they can and will ram it down my throat if they so desire, and I have no inclination to appear engaged in the debate while they do so.

In the case of health care reform, I'm an evil dupe and proud of it!

By the way, don't tell anybody (because they might think I'm engaging in the debate), but I thought your analysis of the impact of health care reform on legal recourse for denied coverage was really excellent.

erp said...

All Obama's "reforms" are thinly disguised power grabs and once complete will be very difficult to undo.

David said...


Harry Eagar said...

I can see why you don't see any need for change, but that does not mean that the anthropologist from Mars wouldn't find tbe need obvious.

I know you have written that everybody is getting the care they need now, but I can demonstrate that this is not so.

The query then becomes, not what should we do, but are we willing to do anything?

The I-got-mine crowd says no. Despite what our host says, that's completely rational. It just isn't decent.

Hey Skipper said...

Single payer health care provision is right because Progressives want it.

Progressives want Single Payer health care because it is right.



I can see why you don't see any need for change ...

Nice strawman, Harry.

We DO need to change health care provision, but it requires actually understanding the problem at hand, which Democrats -- is there a law of nature that requires Democrats to be economically illiterate? -- have resolutely failed to do.

The problems are:

-- IRS tax code distortion that makes individually purchased health insurance vastly more expensive than that purchased by the employer in lieu of wages.

-- Moral hazard.

Despite the fact that I would pay an additional 30% for my family's health insurance, I completely acknowledge that employer provided health insurance must be treated identically to pay.

An anthropologist from Mars would notice the systemic insanity required for employers to become involved in health care provision.

Bret said...


I'm all for change. But both the direction and magnitude of Obamacare makes it a non-starter with me.

Susan's Husband said...

Doesn't the "no change" comment remind any one of the immigration "reform" debate, where the proponents of that used exactly the same straw man argument?

Harry Eagar said...

I dunno. Did that problem solve itself?

But you guys are putting up a strawman. The opposition I hear is not to Obamacare but to any change at all.

As David wrote way back, most people say they are content with their place in the medical system. These are the I-got-mine crowd.

Susan's Husband said...

I quoted a large number of arguments against POR-Care that specified alternate changes. I did so myself. So did Skipper. So did Mackey of Whole Foods. You need to get out more, you're obviously reading a far too narrow slice of whatever it is you read.

Harry Eagar said...

What do the congresspersons say?

I haven't heard many/any of the antis plumping for the moderate changes that, for example, Guy would support. All I hear from them is no, no and no again. No change.

I would like to think -- but do not think, having lived during the Clinton years -- that a political party that marches to Lyndon LaRouche's drum has a dim future in this country.

I wrote, at RtO last year, that for the first time in my political life, I was not hearing that if we elected X, there would never be an election. I spoke too soon.

Susan's Husband said...

"What do the congresspersons say?"

There's Senator Jim DeMint's plan which seems at least plausible. There was the effort to create HSAs during the Bush years, that's still popular among the GOP congress critters. Of course, Old Media neglects to report this kind of thing as much as possible, which may be why you haven't heard of it. You also specified "critics", not "Congressmen", so you're moving the goalposts as well.

"I would like to think [...] that a political party that marches to Lyndon LaRouche's drum has a dim future in this country."

Well, they may have the Presidency and majorities in both Houses of Congress, but that may not last much longer.

Harry Eagar said...

I see in today's MSM that Sen. McConnell is willing consider limited reforms although when asked to name one, he refused to try, so I think I'll stick with my version.

Not moving the goalposts at all; by now, it is only the congresscritters who count. I doubt even the dumbest of them (Bachmann?) has not made at least a general decision already.

You are not keeping up with LaRouche, are you? He's taking credit for the opposition, and with, it seems, some justification.

Susan's Husband said...

"by now, it is only the congresscritters who count"

If that were true, POR-Care would have already passed.

Your comments on LaRouche are wrong in so many ways it exhausts me to think about it. Just to start, opposition to POR-Care isn't a GOP thing. If you read actual right wing weblogs you'd see that the GOP is regularly excoriated for being behind and unsupportive by the actual opposition. Then there's the concept that anyone with the slightest clue would take LaRouche's word on anything. Or that holding up Godwinning signs at town halls counts as "leading". Whatever.