December 19, 2010

shell game

Proponents of Obamacare often like to point out that many of the individual pieces of Obamacare are very popular with the public according to polling data. So then, they conclude, the fact that a majority of the public doesn't like the overall proposal must therefore be merely a matter of messaging. Since the individual elements of Obamacare are popular it's really only a matter of explaining it better to get everyone on board with the entire law, they assure themselves and us.

Of course, this kind of rationale is not only highly disingenuous, it's really quite silly as I am about to demonstrate.

The parts of Obamacare that people like are the the good parts, the carrots, the giveaways. The parts people don't like are the bad parts like the mandate and fines, the sticks. Of course, in reality the carrots cannot be extricated from the sticks. They are specifically designed to work in concert, there is no getting the good without the bad.

Let's use the analogy of a cruise. Let's say the government is proposing that everyone should go on a one week cruise on a cruise ship because it would be beneficial to society at large. On this cruise there will be free food and beverage, free entertainment, and a free limo ride for everyone to the cruise terminal. However, in order to lower the costs of all of these items every American will be mandated to go on the cruise whether they want to or not and pay $2000 each.

Proponents of this cruise plan could then conclude that despite the public's apparent distaste for the entire plan surely the overall plan is great by pointing to polling data on the individual features of the plan. Not surprisingly they would find that the free food and beverage polls well, as does the free entertainment and free limo ride. They could say that yes, the part of the plan where we force everyone to take part is widely despised and it costs too much, but look at how popular the free stuff part of the plan is!

So yes, that some of the individual parts of Obamacare are popular is immaterial in an argument attempting to rationalize the entire law. That the lettuce and tomato are still good in a sandwich with rotted meat does not make the sandwich worth eating.


Brad said...

If going on the cruise helped reduce the deficit and increased people's health, it might be a good metaphor.

Jaz said...

The deficit reduction claims usually bandied about are based upon the CBO scoring which is based on various assumptions that most non-in-the-tank pundits believe are unlikely to be realized.

The CBO scoring is only as good as the unrealistic data that the score is based upon. I'm actually a little surprised that you actually believe that it will reduce the deficit. I thought most proponents had abandoned that rationale for doing it after it was jammed through in the middle of the the night with parliamentary gimmicks.

Because we all the know the point is more along the lines of income redistribution than it is deficit reduction. Ruth Marcus, hardly a right wing Obamacare basher, has written that, "To crow, as did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that the package is 'a triumph for the American people in terms of deficit reduction' is premature at best, delusional at worst."

"The CBO is required to assume that Congress will do what it promises," she continues. The CBO scoring is a projection based on faulty assumptions.

From history I think it's observable that most government programs end up costing more than initially projected.

I think a stronger case could be the moral justification of the new law rather than this supposed budget hawkery that was used to basically try to mislead people into supporting a law for which reducing the deficit is hardly the point and we all know it.

Jaz said...

Besides, my cruise analogy assumes that the government believes the cruise to be beneficial to society in various ways as it does healthcare.

Call the cruise "Project X" if that helps, the point is more about the relationship between the costs and the benefits and that they are not to be separated and presented independently.

Brad said...

it's fine if you want to question CBO estimates, but one shouldn't get to pick and choose -- if we question CBO estimates for this, we should admit that we're questioning them for everything. Which opens up a pretty huge can of worms. (I.e. it pretty much takes questions of the deficit effect of legislation off the table, since there won't be any source that people can agree on).