Monday, May 11, 2009

Post No. 116: Swaying the Undecided


© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Contrary to most commentators, we are among the “undecided” in terms of our response to most news events. Call us the Hank Kimballs of the Blogosphere. “Mr. Kimball,” you may recall, was the County Agent on the Green Acres sit-com show.

This is not to suggest that we can not take a position, or balance competing considerations, when necessary. However, most times we need a little time to think things through.

We’re generally 10 seconds away from appreciating any position. We’re just not into drawing hard lines in the sand. Plus, we might be wrong.

We’ve been mulling over George Will’s statement, to the effect that the beauty of conservatism is its “purity”, and Jonathan Haidt’s conclusion that the “pursuit of moral clarity” is the magnet which draws Republicans together, for several months now. The concepts are beginning to come into focus.

We recently heard Joshua Cooper Ramo say something which helped crystallize our thoughts on another issue – namely the role of government.

We are systems oriented in our approach to issues. For some time now, we have argued that the U.S. is not ready, at this point in its evolution, for a nationalized health care system, just like some nations are not yet ready to embrace democracy.

We raised three concerns. First, Americans are addicted to Kentucky Fried Chicken, donuts, and giant Slurpees; avoid exercise like the swine flu; and are thus insufficiently motivated to maintain good health on the front end. Why build a back end system around people who don’t care?

Second, trying to manage a health-care system involving 300 million subscribers would be like herding 300 million cats.

Third, we do not have any experience managing a dedicated bureaucracy involving 300 million beneficiaries. Our military is about as close as it gets, and the number pales in comparison.

Our new President’s detractors call him a Socialist. The rhetoric is full of allusions to the “pathetic state” of purportedly "has been" Western European powers to whose rescue the Americans came during WWII, and the “failure” of the Soviet Union.

Not being sufficiently versed in the history of socialism, and not having any appreciation of, or first hand knowledge about, the area, we historically viewed ourselves as part of the “undecided.”

Plus, we always try to identify some element of internal consistency in our positions, when they are applied to other areas. It seems to us that if one believes that socialism or central control is a bad thing in one area, then it’s probably a bad thing in another, and another ….

How does one justify the involvement of government in any aspect of our lives, other than perhaps the military? Isn’t it disingenuous to pick areas where you feel government should play a part, and then choose others where it should not?

We raised questions about whether government should be involved in education, in responding to natural disasters, and in other areas we take for granted.

We remained open to the notion that less government is better. However, no one ever convinced us of the merits of that position, since it always appeared to be ideologically and subjectively driven, and not systemically based.

Finally, to our rescue came Rambo. Well, not quite, just Ramo. He is the author of The Age of the Unthinkable. During his book presentation on C-Span2 Book TV recently, he claimed that the world is different today than in years past, and that old approaches to problems will not work.

But this was the bottom line: Things are more interconnected today. Our economic systems are more interconnected. The more interconnected they are, the more complex they are.

The more complex they are, the more potentially unstable they are. Like a house of cards.

If any significant aspect of the system fails, the whole system is at risk. Arguably, this is what brought down the Soviet Union, and not President Reagan’s threats per se. Sorta also sounds like that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” saying.

We’ve come to recognize the importance of the manner in which a concept is framed. (For example, we've long felt that the pro-choice faction chose a poor label for their cause since a woman arguably has choices available to her long before conception.)

Once we heard Ramo refer to the “instability of interconnected systems,” it struck a chord. The emotion laden arguments against socialism or central governance always struck us as arguments of those disinterested in sharing with others, because they had theirs.

This instability argument is one with which we may be able to work.

We’ll think about it a bit over the coming months, and get back to you.

16 comments:

  1. Finally, someone has dared to say we are not ready for universal health care! That on the “front end” we do everything to kill ourselves with excesses in food, self-indulgence and laziness, and then expect the government to take care of our illnesses is just another form of “not in my back yardism.” By that I mean we want to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it and we want government to stay out of our lives. Then when we get into trouble we want the government to take care of us without our need to make any changes in our behavior.

    Your other related point from Ramo about the “instability of interconnected systems,” being a house of cards unfortunately seems to be true. How to find the balance between individual responsibility and assistance from our “groups” (family, local, regional, national government) will ultimately rely on our development of efficient systems and cooperation among the various entities, rather than fortress building and competitive power bases. Finally, I have to take care of myself and form bonds with my closest group, usually the family, so that we are able to care for each other. This then extends, where necessary to the next level of groups. Were this plan executed responsibly there would be a much smaller government, integrated and focused more specifically. The highest level would only do what those beneath it could not do.

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  2. I'd have to say the Soviet economy was one fabricated by the Soviet leaders. It was doomed to eventual collapse. Reagan merely tipped it over the edge. His genius was that he dared to.

    I oppose a national health care system because I served in the military. It was poorly managed. Patients were mostly treated with suspicion. The system is designed to efficiently handle trauma cases, of course, and young healthy people. Long term care and day to day handling of the middle aged and seniors would complicate things beyond imagination.

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  3. You know what I found interesting about what you did? You ultimately were able to appreciate a position, which you did not initially appreciate, because no one had provided you with a satisfactory explanation for supporting that position. In fact, you found the previously stated support as selfish and self-serving. Once an argument was put forth which was not so, you were then able to consider it as meritorious.

    Now, I'll have to think about that one.

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  4. I have a question, can you (generically speaking) recall ever being swayed to accept another position that was diametrically opposed to your own?

    I mean come away from a debate with a firm acceptance of a position to which you had previously been adamantly opposed?

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  5. Douglas:

    Absolutely. Numerous times, and with great frequency. That's because we generally view the world, not in terms of what we desire or want individually, or what's in our interest during the short term, but what we think is in the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest period of time.

    We're interested in maximizing the potential of the nation, not maximizing our interests.

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  6. The government is totally incapable of operating an efficient health care system, and the private sector is doing nothing but screwing us at every chance they get. Very cynical, but that's the reality of the situation. Private health care intelligently regulated (good luck!) is our only hope.

    Personal responsibility can not be expected of 300 million people. We can't force anybody to go to "Fat Farms", but they want us to pay for their bypass surgery. We can stop a drunk from driving, but we can't make him stop burning up his liver. Et cetera.

    On the other hand, drug companies won't develop cures for diseases if they don't see any profit in it. Doctors, afraid of lawsuits, order unnecessary tests, using exceptionally expensive equipment.

    Plans, such as taxing cigarrettes excessively to pay for health care, make sense. How about taxing alcohol in a similar fashion? How about a "Saturated Fat" tax on fast food? Soft drinks could be taxed according to their sugar content. This not only has a chance of discouraging unhealthy behavior, the money collected could then be used to subsidize health care for the working poor, or used to encourage healthy activities.

    However, I don't like big, national solutions that are just plucked from the thin air. We have fifty states, and we should let them deal with the issue, and one, or maybe more, of them will come up with a workable solution. Then bring legislation to the federal level.

    America has an excellent resource that has been chronically ignored; fifty incubators of great ideas.

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  7. Jonathan, if I may, you advocate common sense, Something which we know is not all that common. We do actually tax alcohol quite heavily. It has done little to reduce alcoholism or even heavy drinking. Prohibition is said to have actually increased alcohol consumption during its period in history. As I have said many times, beware the unintended consequences. As I understand it, there is a bill being considered to tax (or increase taxes on) high sugar content consumables. It will eventually be denounced because it impacts the poor more than the rich. As do cigarette and alcohol taxes.

    You hit the big flaw in a public health care system. The lack of profit motive. Potential doctors will have little incentive to incur the cost of a medical education if there is no payout to offset it. Drug companies have no incentive to research and develop pharmaceuticals (as they do not now have for "orphan diseases"). Outside of wars, there is little incentive to develop better and more effective trauma treatments and procedures.

    There is a role for government but it is one of a limited nature.

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  8. Inspector, I find that I have rarely been persuaded to change my mind in that manner. It takes me much time to digest arguments and become comfortable with ideas that differ greatly from my own. But, then, I have never experienced a religious epiphany either.

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  9. Anyone considering a national health care system should be paying attention to the latest report on the fiscal status of Medicare.

    Link to article...

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  10. Jonathan: We were struck by your statement that personal responsibility can not be expected of 300 million people. That's a powerful statement.

    We actually do not know what to do with that. Assuming that is true, and we are sure that it is, how should society deal with people who are responsible in connection with certain aspects of their lives, and not others? Why are people, who engage in "unpopular" irresponsible behavior, treated differently than those who may be perhaps equally irresponsible, but in another area?

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  11. The interview of Joshua Cooper Ramo will be aired again this morning on C-Span2 Book TV at 4:30 am EDST.

    http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=10505&SectionName=&PlayMedia=No

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  12. It is hilarious reading how the government can't run an efficient healthcare system, even from some vets, when I know every other REAL military person I ever spoke to would DARE NOT give it up.

    Just like every elderly person I know would DARE NOT give up Medicare, even after BCBS was allowed to sink its teeth into the system and taint it to a point that it is beginning to look like the BCBS BS I pay for every month.

    This entire argument is a farse and I would laugh if it weren't so ignorant and misguided.

    If anyone in this country thinks that spending twice the money for shitty healthcare is a good thing, you are hopelessly lost.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Arguably in a free market model, things are left to chance and different sectors of society are left to pursue whatever they consider important or desirable, whereas with central governance, planning, coordination, and efficiency take on more importance. Someone please explain to me how a free market country coordinates its efforts and plans for the long term future?

    ReplyDelete
  14. It is hilarious reading how the government can't run an efficient healthcare system, even from some vets, when I know every other REAL military person I ever spoke to would DARE NOT give it up.

    Just like every elderly person I know would DARE NOT give up Medicare, even after BCBS was allowed to sink its teeth into the system and taint it to a point that it is beginning to look like the BCBS BS I pay for every month.

    This entire argument is a farse and I would laugh if it weren't so ignorant and misguided.

    If anyone in this country thinks that spending twice the money for shitty healthcare is a good thing, you are hopelessly lost.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Finally, someone has dared to say we are not ready for universal health care! That on the “front end” we do everything to kill ourselves with excesses in food, self-indulgence and laziness, and then expect the government to take care of our illnesses is just another form of “not in my back yardism.” By that I mean we want to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it and we want government to stay out of our lives. Then when we get into trouble we want the government to take care of us without our need to make any changes in our behavior.

    Your other related point from Ramo about the “instability of interconnected systems,” being a house of cards unfortunately seems to be true. How to find the balance between individual responsibility and assistance from our “groups” (family, local, regional, national government) will ultimately rely on our development of efficient systems and cooperation among the various entities, rather than fortress building and competitive power bases. Finally, I have to take care of myself and form bonds with my closest group, usually the family, so that we are able to care for each other. This then extends, where necessary to the next level of groups. Were this plan executed responsibly there would be a much smaller government, integrated and focused more specifically. The highest level would only do what those beneath it could not do.

    ReplyDelete

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