Thursday, July 30, 2009

The flaw in Megan McArdle's argument:

She's against national health care. But get a load of these lines from her (longish) post: (emp add)
  • .. what are the government's incentives? I think they're bad ...
  • ... the government goes to elaborate lengths to convince us that we're getting the best possible health care, without actually providing it.
  • ... my assumption is that the government will focus on the apparent at the expense of the hard-to-measure.[Whatever that's supposed to mean.]
  • The government is not going to price to some unknowable socially optimal amount of pharma market power.
  • The one industry where the government is the sole buyer, defense, does not have an encouraging record of cost-effective, innovative procurement.[But conservatives don't complain about the defense budget.]
  • [Some years ago] I was, if anything, even more militant than I am now about government takeover of insurance.
  • Once the government gets into the business of providing our health care, the government gets into the business of deciding whose life matters, and how much.
There are serious problems with her other arguments (like the fact that her allergies and asthma is comparable to a life-ending disease), but this post is focusing on one aspect:
This notion that "the government" is not responsive to voters.
Sure, there are problems with representative democracy (especially in this country where the representation is skewed in the Senate), but it's not like there's no connection. Witness how Social Security hasn't been reduced by "the government" (as much as the Washington Post would like to). In fact, Social Security benefits have gradually expanded over the decades.

McArdle is positing a lazy argument. That if you give "the government" something to do, then it's like handing off authority to an unaccountable entity. That argument can work for anything. But it's not realistic.

CODA: Hadn't read anything substantial by McArdle before. She comes off as a grouch who's not particularly happy in life, which allows here to be tough on the less fortunate since she's being so stoic herself. Ugh.

UPDATE: Via commentor riffle, it turns out that Ezra Klein weighed in on McArdle's post. He has much to say, but it's notable that he picks up on this:
Megan's argument against national health insurance boils down to a visceral hatred of the government.
So true.


McArdle is yet a big reason I can't trust The Atlantic. She's unreliable in the extreme. I sure wouldn't rely on her name-dropping of "public choice theory" to indicate that she understands it, much less that it is reliable in itself.

In the phrases you highlight, replace "government" with "insurance companies" and you have an equally good reason to oppose our current system. Replace it with "effectively cartelized insurance companies" and you have something way worse than "governement."

Also she acts as though these issues haven't been discussed by wonks in the US for decades, and already applied in various ways by various industrialized governments around the world for decades. Her whole shtick is stating her shallow libertarian prejudices as if they were somehow empirical, and avoiding as much contrary evidence as is needed not to upset her apple cart.

BTW, the best regular takedowns of McArdle I've seen come from the blog Hunting of the Snark

which has had quite a few very funny and instructive ones recently concerning her wedding blogging (McArdle said she wouldn't blog about her wedding, but couldn't resist).

As for her being "stoic," I'd point you to this post

She thinks she's stoic, but she really isn't. As I said, unreliable.

BTW, I'm with you in hoping Obama can engineer a capture bin Laden.

By Blogger riffle, at 7/30/2009 1:04 PM  

riffle: Thx for the anonyin8fits link. McArdle is a cheapskate libertarian who can get by for now, so she argues that everyone can do it as well.

Checking on of her posts, she says: "If we should give money to sick people regardless of need, is it because being sick sucks and we're giving people bonus payments for having sucky things happen to them? If that's the case, why don't we give people bonus payments for, say, being really ugly, or being severely socially awkward ..."

Hey, that's what voting is all about: establishing the standards we choose to maintain - in this case, to determine what misfortune to ameliorate.

Her arguments strike me as shallow.

By Blogger Quiddity, at 7/30/2009 1:56 PM  

Quiddity, most welcome. "Snark" is one of the few sites I've RSSed recently.

I'd say shallow is being generous about her writing. I've given up on The Atlantic largely thanks to them considering her worth distributing.

I did a pretty shallow job too (but I was commenting on a blog), but after I posted this I see that Ezra Klein took a more serious look at her post:

But finds that .... her post is pretty shallow, though his reasons are deeper.

By Blogger riffle, at 7/30/2009 2:08 PM  

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