Sticky Slope Arguments – or – The Argument From Intended Consequences

by John Holbo on August 10, 2009

Here’s a thought I’ve been meaning to write up for a while. This post has inspired me. Your opponent says healthcare reform will put us on the slippery slope to socialist soylent green serfdom. You reply by acknowledging the objection, in outline: ‘You’re worried Obama/liberals want something different from what they are willing to ask for, for fear that they would lose public support. You are also worried that what is being proposed may have bad, unintended consequences.’ (See if you can lock your interlocutor in on these two points. Which shouldn’t be hard. Now move on to step two.) ‘Fine. Suppose you’re right. Suppose they are lying, or half-lying. They don’t want the moderate stuff they say they want at all. They want something radical, or at least something more.’ (See if you can get agreement to that.) Also: ‘you are right. Something this big and sausage-like sure could work out badly in practice; that’s something to worry about.’ (Now you spring the trap.) ‘But suppose someone said these things and meant them. Suppose Obama were just the liberal he presents himself as. Call this guy Bizarro Obama if you want to emphasize that you aren’t fooled for a second into believing our Obama is this guy. Fine. Would you have any objection to Bizarro Obama – the actually just moderately liberal one? Also: suppose the policy worked more or less as proposed. Not perfectly. But suppose it didn’t just totally blow up. I know, I know, you don’t believe this policy will work. That’s fine. But suppose it did. Would you have a problem with that. If so, what’s the problem.’

Call these: sticky slope arguments – or – the argument from intended consequences. I think you see where I’m going with these names, and maybe you see as well why leading your opponent down this path might leave your opponent a bit deflated, rhetorically. Which might then be an opener for saner debate.

Whether baiting and springing this minor socratic trap would win hearts and minds, or even win debating points on Sunday morning talking head shows, it illustrates something structurally important that is worth keeping in mind. Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. And slippery slope arguments, arguments from unintended consequences and the paranoid style generally are the tribute conservatism pays to the deep appeal of progressive and liberal values. They are all attempts to outflank all that without engaging it. These are methods for getting off the hook of saying there’s something wrong with what liberals/progressives want. You pretend your opponent isn’t really a liberal/progressive but some secret radical. That’s method one. You pretend the results of liberal/progressive policies wouldn’t be truly liberal/progressive (because we would slip past all that or otherwise end up elsewhere than intended.) That’s method two. That’s pretty much it.

Now what makes this hard to deal with is that, in fact, slippery slope arguments, arguments from unintended consequences, and a certain amount of paranoia where political motives are concerned, all have a legitimate place on all almost all levels of political and policy debate. (Even at the airiest of political theory levels, and certainly at the grittiest of practical levels, there is some room for worrying about these things, I suspect.) You can’t just say conservatives are wrong to make these kinds of arguments. Period. Still, they are wrong always to play only these cards. Period. But that’s not a generalization that is easy to substantiate relative to any specific argument which – to repeat – may be a valid one.

Conservatives may say that the situation is perfectly symmetrical. That liberals do the same by demonizing their conservative opponents as really wanting to do terrible things. So liberals conveniently sidestep the need to argue against moderate conservative ideas. Even if all conservatives really are evil idiots, still it is possible to imagine a possible world in which the conservative grown-ups had stepped up, at which NRO’s Corner is a place to visit to hear intelligent, informed debate. I don’t think that’s right, however. Liberals genuinely would be happy to have a lively policy debate with moderate conservatives – a debate in which they get to signal tolerant respect for the opponent’s different point of view and, to some degree, different values. By contrast, conservatives would find nothing more dreadful than such a debate. Conservative extremists because it would require them to give up all their arguments, since all their arguments either express extremism or presuppose its presence on the other side; conservative moderates because, at the present time, they just don’t have a lot of ideas that would be likely to win out. This is basically the Frum point: no moderate conservative could favor the status quo in healthcare. So you need your own bold reform proposals that do all the same things that liberals want, but do them (ex hypothesi) more effectively, with less unintended consequences. That’s a high bar to clear and no significant number of even moderately influential conservative minds – never mind Republican politicians – are even willing to acknowledge this is the bar to clear, never mind trying to clear it.

The point can be generalized beyond the healthcare debate. But that debate exemplifies it nicely.

{ 82 comments }

1

Jake 08.10.09 at 11:07 am

This post describes other applications of this sort of technique – taking a possibility that someone doesn’t want to face and treating it as a hypothetical scenario in order to disarm their defensiveness and get them to think things through. You can even use the technique on yourself.

2

Nick 08.10.09 at 11:40 am

Well I know of some conservatives with exactly that bold aim (http://www.heritage.org/research/healthcare/) and their suggestions tend to involve free market reform. I don’t think the conservative intelligensia are lacking ideas. I think the difficulty is that Republicans are pretty well sewn up into the status quo of cartelised health care provision. Backing free market reform would simply go against the interests of too many of their backers. Hence, what you get instead from Republicans (when they are in power) is a flood of more cash into the current system.

I just doubt that what Obama is cooking up is going to look much better than what you have right now. I admit, it is unlikely it could look that much worse.

3

mart 08.10.09 at 11:56 am

Is this really a point about Conservatism v Progressives in general, or more particular to that dynamic in the US? Whilst I don’t really want to defend conservatives at all, I think that in most countries there is less of the hysteria that characterizes the American Right and that has created the unfortunate position moderate conservatives in the US now find themselves in.

With regards to the Kenyan Eugenics Plothealthcare debate some of this is about party politics rather than ideology anyhow. It seems to me that any of the proposals up for discussion still keep a fundamentally market-based approach to health care and any intellectually honest conservative (keep on walking, Frum) would not really object but rather praise it. But then I live in the UK with Teh Social1stNazi NHS so I should probably be dead by now or something.

4

Markus Nagler 08.10.09 at 12:53 pm

Would you have a problem with Bush’s war in Afghanistan and Iraq being successful, Americans welcomed as liberators and a democracy spreading in the region?
I’m sorry, but trying to seperate the discussion of a particular measure from the people implementing it, their abilities and motives and the full range of possible outcomes of the measure makes no sense to me.

5

John Holbo 08.10.09 at 1:06 pm

“Would you have a problem with Bush’s war in Afghanistan and Iraq being successful, Americans welcomed as liberators and a democracy spreading in the region?”

No. That’s sort of my point. (A version of it, anyway.) I’m confused by your comment, Markus. On the one hand, it is perfectly possible to separate discussion of a measure from discussion of the people implementing it. (I’m not sure why you are skeptical about that possibility.) On the other hand, the post does not propose divorcing discussion of of measures from possible outcomes of the measures. (So that part of your comment seems like a non sequitar.)

6

John Holbo 08.10.09 at 1:14 pm

“Is this really a point about Conservatism v Progressives in general, or more particular to that dynamic in the US?”

It’s peculiar to the US, although perhaps not utterly uniquely so. It stems from the fact that liberals in the US are the positional conservatives. In that they are concerned to mend and patch the existing order of things: the New Deal and its legacy. The conservatives, by contrast, are positional radicals, in that they are philosophically (if not practically) committed to replacing Big Government (that is, the existing order of things) with something quite different from anything we’ve ever had – than anyone has ever had (perhaps not small enough to drown in a bathtub, but different.) This peculiar reversal discomforts both sides, from time to time, and advantages both sides, from time to time.

7

mart 08.10.09 at 2:25 pm

That’s an interesting point about positions, but I’m not sure it’s correct to call much of the right in the US ‘conservative’ in any meaningful sense of that word. The more moderate elements amongst them, yes, but the rest not so much. Whilst the Democrats are in some senses trying to preserve things (e.g. Social Security during Bush), they’re actually trying to change society too (Climate change, health care), so I don’t think your positional distinction holds up too well.

8

John Holbo 08.10.09 at 2:32 pm

Well, the climate change case is a good illustration: we are looking for change that will keep things as much the same as possible. And that’s also true of health care in its way.

9

rea 08.10.09 at 2:39 pm

Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus would have fit right into today’s conservvative movement in the US–no reasoned objections, but the omens are bad, so nothing must be done.

10

Markus Nagler 08.10.09 at 2:57 pm

John, my point – apparently poorly made – is that “well this isn’t the world we’re living in” seems like a perfectly sane response to your initial paragraph. Why should anyone want to waste time discussing a Bizarro Obama, that, as far as they are concerned, exists in your mind and nowhere else? Conceding that the policy would be good if executed by angels and working just as planed is a debate trick, that shouldn’t work against anyone with half a brain.
Going further, contrary to your third paragraph, both sides are of necessity very good in framing their policies in such a way, that they have a deep appeal. Tax cuts, spreading democracy, increasing the safety of Americans at home are all things people genuinely want.

Concerning the specific topic of healthcare reform: I don’t see your method working against the crazies or at least not marginally better than any other form of debate. Informed people should be able to win this debate in public opinion either way.
Against moderate conservatives, whose problem is that they don’t believe the reform will reduce costs significantly, instead assume costs will rise and who are worried about the long term problems from increased government involement (i.e. the public option crowding/regulating out private insurers) it seems equally pointless as their main objection is that the policy will not work as intended. Nefarious motives and hidden agendas are an afterthought to their argument, maybe an amplification, but the central point is exactly the one you’re trying to wave away in that first paragraph.

11

Nathan 08.10.09 at 2:58 pm

I have tried this tactic before on gun control. A few years ago in Michigan we liberalized our concealed carry laws, removing the discretionary powers of local governments to reject applications. The opposition made their slippery slope argument that it would lead to loosening other restrictions like carrying firearms in banks. We asked them to assume we wouldn’t try to loosen those other things, and if in doing so they would support our changes. They still wouldn’t. Truth be told, we actually did intend this to lead to further loosening, which it did.

The tactic did not work then, and I do not believe it would work here. The slippery slope concerns aren’t fabricated on some deep resentment of the President as a person. The fact in many minds is that the CBO has said the reform will not lower costs, while legislators who are writing the bill show up on video having said that it is a step toward single payer.

12

someguy 08.10.09 at 3:18 pm

“Liberals genuinely would be happy to have a lively policy debate with moderate conservatives – a debate in which they get to signal tolerant respect for the opponent’s different point of view and, to some degree, different values. By contrast, conservatives would find nothing more dreadful than such a debate”

LOL.

Remember SCHIPgate?

Pretty funny stuff and a good example of how wrong you are.

On the one side you had a bunch of folks going thru the trash.

[Not as bad as it sounds. If I am paying for your health care it really isn’t all that horrible for me to look at my ancient cracked/burnt formica and wonder if the rumor you have marble counters is true.]

On the other side you had a bunch of folks talking about folks going thru the trash.

Now should we pay for health care for families making 80K? How much should a family of 4 pay if they make 250% more than the poverty line? What about 300%? Should we means test?

Those really aren’t losing issues for conservatives of any type. Or winning issues.

The same thing is true for the current health care debate. We know we won’t end up with the dead clogging the streets but we have absolutely no reason to believe that we will enroll more folks and end up with better care at a lower cost.

We can look to Medicare and have a very good idea what we are going to get.

Medicare instead of your current private insurance really isn’t a winning slogan for liberals.

I think you consistently get this completely backwards.

If you concede liberalism’s basic principles, [and since I basically share them, I am happy to do so] and discuss the details in a critical manner [and perhaps assign the status quo as the default], you pretty much just encounter a lot of hot air. [Gross generalization that doesn’t apply to anyone reading this thread.]

Lets try it some time.

13

Witt 08.10.09 at 4:25 pm

Medicare instead of your current private insurance really isn’t a winning slogan for liberals.

How about Medicare instead of death by uninsurance?

The comment seems to suggest that the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance are not part of the constituency that needs to be won for health care reform to pass. Perhaps that is true, or perhaps I am misreading your point. Can you clarify?

14

Dave Weeden 08.10.09 at 4:30 pm

Who needs to argue about healthcare when a picture can say something totally crazy instead?

15

Erin 08.10.09 at 4:33 pm

As a liberal academic raised in a family of conservative blue collar folks, I can certainly understand and to some extent sympathize with the conservative concern that implementation will be flawed and that those flaws will be the undoing, which seems to be the core of what Markus is concerned with. Though briefly I do also find it somewhat sad that the guy at 538 seems to have forwarded the most cogent articulation of why the federal government may just be the most competitive insurance agent while playing by the free market rules (aka why insurance is different from, say, innovative enterprise like making superconductors).

However, I do not believe that invalidates the benefits of finding some initial starting ground we can agree on, which is what this essay proposes. It proposes that rather than disregard the entire enterprise on the basis of what might go wrong in implementation, we come to a common ground of finding points of agreement: what would we like a future of insurance or (gasp!) health care reform to look like in this country? What specifically are opponents afraid will go wrong in the implementation? What can be done to find compromises that raise the chances of success and lower the risks of failures in implementation?

I actually favor a more federalist approach to this. I don’t think insurance/health reform is an intractable problem. I believe the bulk of conservative opposition is not only a staunch and universal belief that the federal government is a terrible administrator, but that if/when it fails, it will fail in a way that is catastrophically large because it will be gambling on such a large scale. I also believe this is precisely the beauty of federalism. I would like to see some plan that mandates universal insurance coverage, but leaves it up to states to decide how to implement that system. Could be through incentives and regulation of present ‘free market’ insurers, could be a hybrid system, could be rolling out a universal state-sponsored system. What you get in this type of federalist system is more on the ground experimentation where we can see what works and then begin to implement borrowing ideas from the programs that have proven themselves more successful. Failures are more moderated in scale, less of a financial burden on the country as a whole, and there is less bureaucratic inertia invested in a (potentially) failing future system.

16

mcd 08.10.09 at 4:40 pm

I’d say rightwingers won’t follow you in your sticky slope argument. Because they oppose universal access to health, period. They will go on about it won’t work, it’s too expensive, it’s a trojan horse, etc, but those are rationalizations. Rightwingers will be more enraged by universal health working than by it not working.

17

Jim Harrison 08.10.09 at 4:57 pm

Rational debate is only possible when the two sides are both proposing reasonable ideas. That’s not the case in the current health care debate because the current system is so utterly dysfunctional, financially disastrous, and simply inhumane that arguing for it is rather like objecting to indoor plumbing as something newfangled and unsound. Unfortunately, the crazy side of the current struggle–I refuse to call it an argument–has a tremendous advantage because its very craziness disinhibits it. Delicate pencil drawings of Holbo’s sticky slope idea are quite invisible in their tiny corner of the immense canvas upon which the psychotic right sprawls its lurid themes in crayon.

18

The Raven 08.10.09 at 5:11 pm

The point of the paranoid slippery slope arguments, broadly, is to stir up so much fear that reasoned argument is forgotten. So wouldn’t the first problem be getting the opponent back to reasoning?

19

Barry 08.10.09 at 5:28 pm

No, if the opposition is composed of those who profit by unreason, and those who really enjoy their unreason. The goal would be to marginalize the opposition as much as possible.

20

Billikin 08.10.09 at 5:35 pm

John Holbo: “The conservatives, by contrast, are positional radicals, in that they are philosophically (if not practically) committed to replacing Big Government (that is, the existing order of things) with something quite different from anything we’ve ever had – than anyone has ever had (perhaps not small enough to drown in a bathtub, but different.)”

Well, there are conservatives and conservatives. You can’t lump them all together. Bush-Cheney disappointed a number of U. S. conservatives, different conservatives for different reasons.

That being said, I think that with Bush-Cheney U. S. conservatives pretty well got what they wanted. The fact that that administration exposed rifts in the conservative camp is part of that, in terms of Yin and Yang. When either becomes too dominant, it tends to morph into the other. If we identify conservatives with yin and liberals with yang, we can say that what we are witnessing in the U. S. is old yin becoming new yang, as we saw old yang (Carter) become new yin (Reagan).

Even if the Bush-Cheney administration has shown the limits of modern U. S. conservativism, the ideal has not struck me as utopian, “something quite different from anything we’ve ever had”. Rather, isn’t it the U. S. society of the late 19th century, after Reconstruction and before Teddy Roosevelt?

21

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.10.09 at 5:42 pm

- Are my methods unsound?
– I don’t see any methods at all, sir.

There seems to be an assumption in the post that their paranoia is something like a froth on top of some more or less reasonable position. But what if it’s not, what if there is no foundation whatsoever; a list of talking points written by professional demagogues in think-tanks, distributed thru AM radio, churches, various other grassroots organizations.

22

Billikin 08.10.09 at 5:46 pm

someguy: “Medicare instead of your current private insurance really isn’t a winning slogan for liberals.”

I would have agreed with you until I heard the cry: “Keep the government out of my Medicare!” ;)

23

vivian 08.11.09 at 1:27 am

In practice though, when you get the opponent to concede that the “Bizarro-Obama” plan might work, the opponent takes the opportunity to demand some concessions “in good faith” and then the eager-to-engage liberal offers concessions and the decent plan erodes into uselessness. (plus is stuck at the useless spot on the slope) See Baucus on healthcare-reform or Saletan on abortion, or… oh hell, now I’m depressed again.

24

Lane 08.11.09 at 3:43 am

Well, first, let’s point out there’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black here. Demonizing and stereotyping one’s opponents is hardly the exclusive bailiwick of the Conservative commentariat (did you just say we’re all “evil idiots”?). And those looking for a debate with tolerant respect are more likely to find it on the Corner than at DailyKos, HuffingtonPost or even the NYT.

But more to your central point, while I, as a conservative, can concede some of your broader goals, say providing health services to the poor, your sticky slope argument isn’t a valid one for criticisms pointing out that your policy as proposed will not only not achieve your goals, it will have ruinous unintended consequences.

When Medicare and Medicaid were first proposed, Conservative opponents, academics and pundits pointed out that it would inflate costs, distort the system, force everyone into health insurance programs and eventually bankrupt the government. All those criticisms have born fruit, and the proposal from the Left is more of the same.

The critics then were not making a slippery slope argument, they were offering cogent criticism of the policy proposed, and the same is true today. And no amount of pointing to your sometimes lofty ideals will change the bills being considered.

Perhaps examining those ideals (“Freedom” I assume, broadly understood), and how they conflict with your policy positions (more power to the government in all things, all the time) might result in better luck finding debating partners.

25

Walt 08.11.09 at 5:57 am

I’d just like to separate this out so that we can take a moment and really appreciate how subjective the human experience is:

And those looking for a debate with tolerant respect are more likely to find it on the Corner than at DailyKos, HuffingtonPost or even the NYT.

26

Walt 08.11.09 at 6:00 am

Lane, the fact that you think that our policy position is more power to the government in all things, all the time, does more to illuminate our difficulty in finding debating partners than anything else in your comment.

27

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.11.09 at 6:11 am

“Freedom” I assume, broadly understood

Indeed it is, at least in part, about freedom. But not “Freedom”.

28

Jim Harrison 08.11.09 at 7:23 am

Conservatives like Lane are living in an ideological la-la land. It is possible for him to go on believing that everything would have just been ducky in the absence of government action because there was government action. Well, a great many of those who are yelling and screaming at town hall meetings would be dead or in desperate poverty were there no Medicare or its functional equivalent. One surmises that Lane’s personal circumstances make him indifferent to such outcomes, but he may just be too vain or thoughtless to understand that what happens to others could happen to him.

Right-wingers think it was a great thing that Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire. By all means let us take a leaf from his book and also call a spade a spade: modern conservatism has become a moral evil–Greed and superstition defended by the cynicism of public relations experts and the sophistry of callow eternal adolescents.

29

hidflect 08.11.09 at 8:25 am

Suppose Obama doesn’t really care about healthcare. Suppose he simply knows it’s a dynamic he has to go through in order to keep the majority of liberals on his side. So if it fails, he can blame the conservatives. And if it succeeds he can claim victory. Suppose he’s from Chicago, the home of cynical triangulation politics. Suppose he lost me 3 months ago and it’s time for us to apologise to Nader and time for him to say, “I TOLD you so!”

30

Liam Murray 08.11.09 at 8:25 am

Conversely a refusal to engage with a ‘slippery slope argument’ is an effort to hide behind your ‘intent’ and deny any responsibility for the eventual outcome of the policy being discussed. The argument has force (when used properly) because it divorces intention from outcome and demands its target accept some responsibility for the latter and not just credit for the former. In my experience there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what ‘liberals/progressives want’ (in US parlance I probably am one!) but there’s nothing wrong with arguing that a particular policy might not actually deliver it. Arguing the merits of any particular policy on the grounds that the intention behind it is noble is utterly fatuous anyway and deserves ridicule rather than reasoned argument.

More here

31

Barbar 08.11.09 at 8:51 am

Obama is losing me too but Chicago as the home of cynical triangulation politics? Really? What does that even mean? At least when people called it the home of “thug politics” I knew what the code meant.

32

John Holbo 08.11.09 at 10:09 am

“Perhaps examining those ideals (“Freedom” I assume, broadly understood), and how they conflict with your policy positions (more power to the government in all things, all the time) might result in better luck finding debating partners.”

Lane, maybe it would help if you imagined some bizarro liberals who say and do everything that real liberals say, but are in favor of freedom … oh, never mind.

33

Lane 08.11.09 at 1:00 pm

This is what passes for reasoned debate?

I do not doubt John, that you are in favor of “Freedom”. But the reason I used the scare quotes in the first place is that you and I may have different ideas about what that word means. In my world, it does include the freedom to fail, and to suffer on occaision, and to be helped as well.

The question before us is who best to help and how.

No matter the problem, be it incandescent light bulbs, unisex bathrooms or health care, the Left’s answer seems always and everywhere to be more Government.

Please point out the great solutions being proposed by the Left that don’t involve government money, government mandates, government grants, government restrictions on personal freedom and the market, etc.

To Jim Harrison, you have no idea of my personal circumstances or where my life has taken me. You bring it up to engage in ad hominem attacks, and not the honest debate you claim to be seeking.

34

John Casey 08.11.09 at 1:09 pm

You write:

“And slippery slope arguments, arguments from unintended consequences and the paranoid style generally are the tribute conservatism pays to the deep appeal of progressive and liberal values. They are all attempts to outflank all that without engaging it.”

Maybe that’s correct of conservatives in general (I don’t know really–I tend to see way more straw mans), but I think what you’re really alleging is that conservatives tend to engage in fallacies of relevance (of which the slippery slope is not one actually).

I think this is a fairly important distinction, because it concerns whether there will be some plausible causal chain which will produce “death panels” (or some other idiotic accusation), or whether the conservative objector merely intends to change the subject. The death panel eventuality is the same subject, he will point out (as I think Lane has attempted to point out above), so he will dismiss your point about intentions and distractions. What’s wrong with the slippery slope arguments (in part, at least) is their insistence on the likelihood of an unlikely road towards communism, socialism, fascism, or liberal fascism (or, more moderately–high costs, rationing, etc.). Objecting to that kind of argument would involve a technique rather different from the one you suggest (the sticky slope). You have to show in this cause that the causal chain is unlikely or poorly established.

In your case, I think, the sticky slope answers general problems of relevance. So, the sticky slope invoker can say: “I know the Obama plan, as you describe it, is an unmitigated moral evil, but what about Obama (prime)’s plan? You essentially trick them into the return to relevance. My impression is however that that strategy will only work for the (conservative) guy who doesn’t know his strategy is a fallacious one. The one who does has already signaled his disregard for what his opponent’s argument actually is. Good luck with him.

35

ajay 08.11.09 at 1:38 pm

Please point out the great solutions being proposed by the Left that don’t involve government money, government mandates, government grants, government restrictions on personal freedom and the market, etc.

Problem: hundreds of billions of dollars in pointless occupation of large middle eastern country.
Left’s preferred solution: withdraw US troops from Iraq.
Additional government money required to implement solution: none.
Additional mandates required ditto: none.
Grants required: none.
Restrictions on personal freedom and the market required: none.

36

Walt 08.11.09 at 1:42 pm

Lane: The Left supported a course of action in Iraq that did not involve government money, government mandates, government grants, and government restrictions — not invading. The Left is in favor of shrinking the government program known as “the military”. The Left is in favor of scaling back the government’s involvement in the War on Drugs.

In general, your freedom is heavily constrained by your circumstances. Conservatives support a system where freedom is proportional to the amount of money you have. The Left would like to see that freedom distributed a little bit more equitably.

37

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.11.09 at 1:47 pm

Lane, you need to demonstrate that those government mandates, grants, etc. do indeed negatively affect “Freedom”; mere distaste for the government is not enough because people on the other side often have comparable distaste for large private businesses.

38

John Holbo 08.11.09 at 1:58 pm

“In my world, it does include the freedom to fail, and to suffer on occaision, and to be helped as well.”

Sorry Lane, What makes you think that liberals – or leftists – think it is unacceptable for people to suffer on occasion or be helped? (Just for starters, how could one reasonably – or even unreasonably – hope to eliminate occasional suffering from human life? Riddle me that.)

Again, why not just imagine liberals or leftists – bizarro liberals, if you must – who say and do all the things liberals and leftists actually do but, unlike all the liberals and leftists in the actual world, are quite reasonable. So argue with a real liberal, but in your mind, pretend you are arguing with a bizarro liberal, and interpret all the things he or she says in a bizarro – that is, reasonable – way; to make it more interesting and, frankly, challenging. Just as an intellectual exercise, if nothing else. (Are you starting to see what I was getting at in the post, maybe?)

No seriously, sorry for the snark. I realize the post was snarky so it was fine for you to be a bit snarky back. But I do seriously think you are sort of missing the point of the post. There was an actual point, not just snark.

39

Chris 08.11.09 at 2:51 pm

No matter the problem, be it incandescent light bulbs, unisex bathrooms or health care, the Left’s answer seems always and everywhere to be more Government.

Abortion. The Left’s answer is *less* government. (Although somewhat paradoxically, in the federal system, it takes one government to stop other governments from intruding into private decisions.) It’s the Right that wants government to dictate who can and cannot get abortions.

Gay marriage – a few people on both sides have advocated getting the government out of the marriage business altogether, but everyone understands that the *outcome* of this would be freedom of marriage, which is the Left’s goal and the Right’s fear. Most people on the Left accept the status quo of government officially recognizing marriages, but believe it should do so *less* restrictively. Most of the Right wants to keep the restrictions. As in the abortion case, it may eventually happen that one government will be needed to tell the other governments to butt out.

Government surveillance of private citizens – I’m really surprised this isn’t a bigger point of conflict between libertarians and the right (if the libertarians are actual libertarians, it damn well should be). The right is enthusiastically in favor of more government surveillance of the private lives of anyone the government feels like surveilling, and the main voice of opposition to this comes not from libertarians questioning the wisdom of their tactical alliance with the right, but from leftists like Glenn Greenwald. (At least, I think he’s a leftist. Maybe he’s actually a libertarian who thinks that this issue is more important than the tax rate.)

Immigration – few people actually speak out in favor of less government restriction of immigration but of those, most that I know are on the left. The right wants to build a damned Berlin Wall (although this is an issue on which libertarians have been known to dissent).

I think a more accurate way to summarize the philosophical difference is that the Left is open to the idea that more government might, in some cases, be an improvement, although it is not always better. The Right seems to be the one with the no-nuance “less government is always better, regardless of the circumstances” belief. (Or, if you think this is an unfair portrait, where are your examples of the right being in favor of more government?)

As a liberal, I believe that government is both dangerous and useful. (Like automobiles, explosives, or many other technologies.) In a democracy, it is the people’s responsibility to watch out for the dangers while keeping our government performing its useful functions. Criticism of any particular government act should, therefore, be taken seriously and examined in detail, if it has any factual basis.

But criticism of the idea of having government at all is silly, because the alternative is anarchy, which is conclusively proved (by historical examples) to be worse. “More government” and “less government” are not really very useful concepts; government is not an amorphous homogeneous blob, it is a tool that should be used for some applications, and not used for others. Distinguishing between them can *only* be done by examining the details of particular applications, not by superficial sloganizing.

It’s the difference between saying “It’s a bad idea to use dynamite to brush your teeth” and “It’s a bad idea to use dynamite”. Dynamite, used properly, can be worth using. Just not for dental hygiene. Context is important. Not every proposed use of dynamite is an inevitable step in the road to blowing your head off.

40

Charles Crawford 08.11.09 at 3:09 pm

John

Interesting. I have taken up your points and the reply from Liam Murray on his site here:
http://www.charlescrawford.biz/blog/slippery-slopes

Thus:

This is a huge and unmanageable subject, since to add to the numerous implications (implicit and explicit) of the metaphor itself (simplified beyond recognition by John, to help him make his case?) must be the reasonable facts of each case – how might one slide down this particular SS, how steep is it, how great the crash at the bottom, and so on.

And it all depends too on what exactly you are suggesting by the metaphor and the similar ‘thin end of the wedge’ metaphor.

Is it that by accepting A you logically have to accept B and C and so on?

Or rather that if you accept A it is very likely (or quite likely, or more likely than not) that in practice you’ll end up getting B and C and so on, even if these results logically and in policy terms can be distinguished?

Liam is more right than wrong, and John more wrong than right… (contd)

Regards,

Charles

41

someguy 08.11.09 at 3:52 pm

Again,

http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=HealthCareReform.Home

I briefly skimmed it. But it really looked like a very real alternative proposal. Prehaps the Democrats eventual plan will be “better”. I doubt either will fix health care.

But it seems to me that if the deabte is between angry people shouting keep your government hands off my medicare and the Democrats plan -

The Democrats have an advantage.

But if the the debate is between the two plans I am skeptical that the Democrats will have an advantage.

I would like to see that debate.

42

Lane 08.11.09 at 4:53 pm

“No seriously, sorry for the snark. I realize the post was snarky so it was fine for you to be a bit snarky back. But I do seriously think you are sort of missing the point of the post. There was an actual point, not just snark.”

And certainly, I recognize that point. I think you’re missing the complimentary point that I’m trying to make. If I may steal your rhetorical device…

Imagine there are Conservatives out there who care about people, all people; people of all races, sexual preferences and economic classes. We care about the environment and the poor people who have been left behind both in our own countries and around the world. Call them “Bizarro Republicans”. Now imagine that even though they care, they have different ideas about the best way to address all these concerns. Imagine you’re debating with them.

You, in your opening post called conservatives evil (snark or not), your commentors have decided I must be rich, greedy and callous.

Try imaging that not all Conservatives are uneducated knuckle-dragging trolls, greedy, white and indifferent to the sufferings of their fellow man.

Now start the debate.

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Lane 08.11.09 at 5:31 pm

On to the specific policy provocations.

Defense should be left to another discussion.

Gay marriage. There is nothing stopping homosexuals from gathering with their friends and families and declaring themselves married. It happens all the time. No laws required. Getting government out of marriage all together is something that is very popular on the right. The debate from our side isn’t about whether gays can get married. It’s about whether certain people should be required to acknowledge those marriages (religious conservatives, one of which I am not). They feel their First Amendment rights are being trampled upon when against their most deeply held beliefs they are being forced to countenance these unions. Get the government out and the problem would go away.

Abortion is also mostly an issue for religious conservatives, excepting the fact that in the opinion of a great many of us, it is not and should not be a Constitutional Issue. I myself am pro-choice in matters of law, but it is no where in the Constitution and stretching the Constitution to include it is damaging to both the law and the polity. If you don’t want people to vote against abortion rights, then convince them with argument, don’t shut them up with the club of the Law (and the same holds true for Gay Marriage).

Government surveillance? Look at Britain, which under the Labor (sorry, “Labour”) Party has become the most watched country in the world. Cuba can’t afford that many cameras. I realize that Bush is a favorite whipping boy of the Left for this, but Carnivore came in during the Clinton administration, as did Magic Lantern and international phone calls and emails have been intercepted and recorded since the 80s. I’d like less surveillance in some areas too, but that’s a big government problem, not a Conservative one.

Drugs. Well, the Supreme Court justice who got the most hate mail for striking down California’s medical marijuana provision was Scalia. Not because everybody on the left hates him (and they do), but because he so clearly violated his own stated, conservative principles to side with the Left majority of the court. Evil Clarence Thomas wrote the most scathing dissent in which he was joined by the rest of the Right side of the court.

The puritanical and nanny state strains in this country run strong. Progressivism brought us prohibition and is now at war with cigarettes, and the puritans banned porn, pot and dancing. I see this more as a Libertarian/Not issue than as a Left/Right issue. But you show me the Democratic congress critter proposing repeal of the drug laws (or at least the ridiculously unconstitutional property forfeiture laws) and I’ll sign up.

Immigration. Nothing sensible can be done without a secure border. The last time comprehensive immigration reform was tried, it was passed specifically because it promised to stem the tide from south of the border. It did not and the situation is worse today than it was then. Open borders are untenable with a welfare state and birthright citizenship. Some immigration restrictions must be in place. And any and all restrictions are a joke when illegal immigration swamps legal immigration by 10:1.

Police the border, then expand legal immigration 5 fold and everybody wins. After the flow of illegal immigration has been stemmed, then it makes sense to talk about those who are already here (say it, you know you want to, “amnesty”). But while people are flowing in like water, speaking of “reform” is fantasy.

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Uncle Kvetch 08.11.09 at 5:45 pm

They feel their First Amendment rights are being trampled upon when against their most deeply held beliefs they are being forced to countenance these unions.

Or, put another way: “How can I possibly be free when other people are free to do things I personally disapprove of?”

If the people in question truly believe that their “First Amendment rights” are threatened by other people’s marriages, then they haven’t the foggiest notion what the First Amendment actually is. I see nothing to be gained from “debating” such people. If that makes me “intolerant,” tough.

45

Substance McGravitas 08.11.09 at 6:19 pm

If you don’t want people to vote against abortion rights, then convince them with argument, don’t shut them up with the club of the Law (and the same holds true for Gay Marriage).

Who is “you” and what is the “shutting up”?

46

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.11.09 at 6:28 pm

Now start the debate.

So, what would be wrong with a progressive-tax-financed government-run universal (for citizens and legal residents) medical insurance?

47

John Casey 08.11.09 at 6:42 pm

I posted this a while ago but it got stuck in moderation for some reason. Here is a somewhat modified version. Now the discussion seems to have devolved into “a which is better Conservatives or Liberalism?” (your gay marriage inhibits my freedom of religion? please) So I apologize if it seems off the current thread of the discussion. Anyway,

John Holbo writes:

“And slippery slope arguments, arguments from unintended consequences and the paranoid style generally are the tribute conservatism pays to the deep appeal of progressive and liberal values. They are all attempts to outflank all that without engaging it.”

Maybe that’s correct of conservatives in general (I don’t know really—I tend to see way more straw mans, but that’s an empirical question), but I think what you’re really alleging is that conservatives tend to engage in fallacies of relevance (of which the slippery slope is not one strictly speaking).

This is important, because the slippery slope user alleges there is some plausible (to them) causal chain which will produce “death panels” (or some other idiotic accusation). On your variation of their view, however, the conservative objector merely intends to change the subject. The death panel eventuality is the same subject, the conservative will point out (as I think Lane has attempted to point out above), so he will dismiss your point about intentions and distractions.

What’s wrong with the slippery slope arguments (in part, at least) is their insistence on the likelihood of an unlikely road towards communism, socialism, fascism, or liberal fascism (or, more moderately—high costs, rationing, etc.). Objecting to that kind of argument involves a technique rather different from the one you suggest (the sticky slope). You have to show in this case that the causal chain is unlikely or poorly established.

In your case, I think, the sticky slope answers general problems of *relevance.* So, the sticky slope invoker can say: “I know the Obama plan, as you describe it, is an unmitigated moral evil, but what about Obama (prime)’s plan?” You essentially trick them into the return to relevance. My impression is however that that strategy will only work for the (conservative) guy who doesn’t know his strategy is a fallacious one. The one who does has already signaled his disregard for what his opponent’s argument actually is. Good luck with him.

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Lane 08.11.09 at 6:43 pm

To Substance – “you” is Liberals. And the “shutting up” is the tactic of taking certain policy decisions out of the realm of democracy and open debate by running to the courts.

To Henri – The problem with this idea is everywhere it has been tried in ends up producing worse care than the vast majority of Americans now have. It makes little sense to destroy a system that works 90% of the time for 90% of the people to reach that extra 10%. Something must be done, and there are honest proposals for doing things out there if you look for them (The Heritage Foundation was already mentioned in this thread, but look at Krauthammer’s latest for other ideas, and there are more, just look for them).

Another problem is simply this, why must the government provide this service? If we can setup a system of micropayments to provide finance for small businesses in the third world without any government intervention (and we can), why can’t we find a non-government idea for getting people health care? Obviously, I think we can, and I think there are many (slippery slope) dangers with letting the government dictate health care decisions. Government is wasteful, corrupt and gargantuan. Surely we can come up with somthing better.

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Chris 08.11.09 at 7:01 pm

Lane: Where do you live? What you describe is nothing at all like the American political landscape I’m familiar with (in Virginia). Libertarians are not a substantial component of the Right as it presently exists. Religious conservatives are a majority, and corporate managers and rentiers, though few in number, have large influence. (The latter don’t care much about noneconomic issues, except as a way to mobilize the former.)

Your apparent attempt to exclude religious conservatives from a discussion of what policies the Right is advocating is bizarre, at best. At worst it’s a deliberate No True Scotsman argument. You may not personally agree with religious conservative arguments. But they are, by and large, the arguments of the contemporary American right and it is useless to pretend otherwise – nobody will buy it.

Nothing sensible can be done without a secure border.

No state in history has ever had a border that is “secure” in the sense that nobody ever crosses it without official permission. Not even the Berlin Wall. Just last week two Americans were in the news when they were released after being caught *after* crossing what is possibly the most “secure” border in human history. The permeability of borders may not be desirable, but it is inevitable, and any policy based on requiring that you close the border is a policy doomed to failure.

But in any case, it’s clear that even trying to “secure” the border, whether or not the attempt succeeded, would require far more government action and cost than opening it or maintaining the status quo, and therefore, the Right’s position on immigration requires more and bigger government than the Left’s. This fits oddly with their anti-government rhetoric, which was the whole point of coming up with the list in the first place.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.11.09 at 7:11 pm

So, you want to argue your case mostly on empirical grounds, is that correct?

why must the government provide this service?

Because, I claim, this is an area where market approaches are destined to fail. Market approach works best for mass-production of cheap identical things. Healthcare is very different: it’s complicated, consumer is not well educated about his options and costs; moreover: often he is not trying to minimize the cost/benefit ratio, because often it’s a matter of life and death. This seems to be exactly the kind of situation where governments step in and do what they do, take care of general welfare. Same as with public education, military, police, etc.

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watson aname 08.11.09 at 7:20 pm

The problem with this idea is everywhere it has been tried in ends up producing worse care than the vast majority of Americans now have.

The way this is worded seems to me to be objectively false. Which doesn’t mean that it’s the right approach for the US, but that this particular argument against it is empty.

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Uncle Kvetch 08.11.09 at 7:47 pm

Watson, it’s generally taken on faith among opponents of universal health insurance in the US that any American with health insurance is automatically far better off than everyone “over there.”

You don’t have to go very far to find evidence to the contrary, of course, but as I’m sure you’re aware, this particular “debate” has very little to do with facts.

53

someguy 08.11.09 at 9:16 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps ,

“Same as with public education, military, police, etc.”

But all the best available evidence is that via a voucher program the private sector provides at least the same quality education with increased consumer satisfication at a much lower cost.

http://www.uaedreform.org/SCDP/Milwaukee_Eval/Report_10.pdf

http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/41868652.html

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.11.09 at 9:48 pm

But these are mostly religious schools. Sure they’ll teach to read and write, but this is not the 16th century; you know, The Enlightenment and all that. Private non-religious schools are extremely expensive (something like 20+K/year/pupil the last I checked, and that was years ago) and they probably benefit from cream skimming as well, just like the insurance companies.

55

Lane 08.11.09 at 10:00 pm

Henri –

this is an area where market approaches are destined to fail.

But why are market approaches the only other options? Charitable giving and non-profit organizations are also possibilities, are they not? The idea of state run health care came from the same era as the idea of state run steel companies. And it should have died with them. The organizational power of the internet isn’t just good running political campaigns.

often he is not trying to minimize the cost/benefit ratio, because often it’s a matter of life and death.

And this is exactly where government run programs become dangerous. With my life and my resources I can choose or not to maximize the cost/benefit ratio. I bear the cost (and possibly my heirs). When the government steps in, they have a duty to at least consider cost/benefit ratios. The current debate in Washington is all about cost, is it not? We have to hold down costs!

But why? Because absent cost reductions, Medicare is going to eat the Federal budget in about ten years. And the only answer to that problem is rationing. And it is politically impossible to tell the Senior Citizens of America that they are going to be facing cuts in their medical care.

And aren’t we forgetting that the whole promise of universal health care is that everyone gets what they need? Right? Or is it, you get what the Government Health Board Determines you need based on a formula they have developed with the help of many experts?

And for advocates of those in poverty, ask yourselves whether future earning potential will figure into that formula?

56

Uncle Kvetch 08.11.09 at 10:04 pm

With my life and my resources I can choose or not to maximize the cost/benefit ratio. I bear the cost (and possibly my heirs). When the government steps in, they have a duty to at least consider cost/benefit ratios. […] Or is it, you get what the Government Health Board Determines you need based on a formula they have developed with the help of many experts?

I take it you don’t have health insurance and pay all of your medical expenses out-of-pocket. Otherwise your objections make no sense.

57

Lane 08.11.09 at 10:06 pm

Uncle Kvetch –

Arguing by anecdote does not prove objective, or even statistical claims. I have as many sob stories on my side recounting the horrors of government run programs around the world.

Reforming the insurance industry is something with broad support on my side of the aisle.

58

Lane 08.11.09 at 10:19 pm

Chris –

Last things first, no the border cannot be airtight, it cannot stop 100% of those attempting to cross. But it can be made much more secure than it is. Millions of people pour across every year. Drop that number to tens of thousands and I’ll call the work done.

And trying to enforce laws already on the books does not require more laws, or more and bigger government. Enforcing the border (and illegal employment) is a matter of will, not resources.

As for where I live, it’s not really relevant. Are there religious conservatives? Yes, I thought I presented their arguments (and I’ll wager I know personally quite a few more than you do). They oppose abortion and they oppose gay marriage. But I think the general caricature of them is wrong. And I imagine there are lots of positions you don’t share with the caricatures some hold of the Left (you don’t really want to teach grade schoolers to masturbate do you?).

I am not writing anyone out of the Conservative Movement, I am simply presenting my positions. A more complete discussion of the why’s and wherefore’s of the gay marriage debaet probably belongs somewhere else…

59

Uncle Kvetch 08.11.09 at 11:05 pm

Arguing by anecdote does not prove objective, or even statistical claims.

Then present some statistical claims. You’ve asserted that “everywhere [publicly financed universal health insurance] has been tried in ends up producing worse care than the vast majority of Americans now have.” Please feel free to present your evidence.

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someguy 08.12.09 at 3:48 am

Henri Vieuxtemps ,

Did you read the relavent material?

Private institutions are providing the same education at 2/3’s the cost, 6K per pupil, and without any benefits from cream skimming.

The educational results between the private school’s that can only spend 2/3’s as much per pupil and public school’s are the same. Sample selection comparison is carefully calibrated based on the characteristics of the students enrolling in private schools. Score samples of private school students are compared to a sample of public school students with matching characteristics.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.12.09 at 6:07 am

someguy, yes I looked, and again: most of these schools in your link (80%) are religious schools. I do know that Catholic schools are cheap, but these are not what people normally call “private schools” in the US. They are organized and run by the Church.

62

nick s 08.12.09 at 6:38 am

Police the border, then expand legal immigration 5 fold and everybody wins.

The problem is the ‘then’. When you have a clear political asymmetry — legal immigrants can’t vote, born-in-the-USAers have usually never interacted with the immigration system — the ‘bureaucratic reform later’ just means kicking the can down the road, not least because for a lot of ‘secure the borders’ advocates, there’s never going to be a point at which the border is secure to their satisfaction, absent the creation of a 100m moat filled with sharks right the way across both north and south.

There’d be more sympathy for ‘secure the border first’ types if they showed a degree of engagement with the mess that is the US immigration system, or at very least were not dominated by a bunch of nativist arseholes.

One final point on immigration: a lot of the ‘laws on the books’ are kruft, the product of long-gone times or the result of decades of legislative showboating on either side. (Case in point: the ridiculous I-visa for journalists, creating during the Red Scare, at a time when Our Correspondent In America came over on the steamer for a twelve-month posting, as opposed to flying into JFK or LAX for a weekend to do an interview.) Turning them into working regulations is hard enough for the USCIS.

Charitable giving and non-profit organizations are also possibilities, are they not?

“Oh, private charity” is the basis of an insidious argument: I have seen too many damn collection boxes on counters and been to too many medical bill bakesales already. There’s a telling quote from Arianna Huffington: “One of the definite changes in my thinking was born of the hard reality I confronted when I discovered how much easier it was raising money for the opera and fashionable museums than for at-risk children.”

Charity is inconsistent, and those who advocate it for basic services generally do so because they get off the idea of having people subject to their largess and moral whims. In short, it’s a giant ego trip to determine the worthiness of the recipient, which is perhaps why libertarians get off on it so much. Sorry, no go.

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nick s 08.12.09 at 6:43 am

Or, on the final point, what Digby said.

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Jim Harrison 08.12.09 at 7:26 am

Time was it was a conservative notion that we ought to consult human experience instead of relying on utopian, a priori thinking. The lesson of experience is quite clear. Most of the other industrialized nations have had some sort of universal health care system for a long time now–the U.K. since 1945, I believe–and going back to a purely private system is a nonstarter in every one of them because of overwhelming public support. Which is hardly surprising: every single one of these countries gets better results for far less money than we do. Although it is an offense against the sacred vanity of the Americans to admit it, our system is not only not the best. It’s distinctly inferior. Now that doesn’t matter to our libertarian Robespierres who channel Ayn Rand through a filling in their back teeth. Private, unregulated medical care just must be best. What happens all over the world doesn’t matter, to them. In effect they are telling us, “How dare you trust history and experience over this abstract principle I just pulled out of my ass!”

We don’t need death panels, but we could sure use some comitment hearings in this country.

65

millie 08.12.09 at 7:32 am

Right-wingers think it was a great thing that Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire. By all means let us take a leaf from his book and also call a spade a spade: modern conservatism has become a moral evil —Greed and superstition defended by the cynicism of public relations experts and the sophistry of callow eternal adolescents.

I think the above bears repeating. My guess is that most progressives reading that comment would have recoiled a bit from the bluntness of it though. Even if sympathising with the spirit of it there’s that voice in the head instinctively questioning whether it is quite fair enough, kind enough. Evil? We don’t use words like evil do we? Maybe if we deconstruct that a bit to ‘less good’ , but then…. Jeebus even ‘moral’ is a bit shaky, maybe differences is neural connections … (….don’t want to become the monster, stare into the abyss too long…) Since the thread’s been hijacked anyway, I thought I’d add a bit to the discomfort.

Progressives and right-wingers do not think alike. There really is a war, and its as old as history (and if progressives don’t step off the back foot, out of their comfort zone, and muscle up a bit I swear I’m smelling toast)

Whether and to what degree it is innate [a position I am increasingly leaning towards, fully aware of the implications] or learned, research is increasingly pointing to a difference in brain architecture/processing (I am thinking, for instance, of Jonathan Haidt’s research into different moral etiologies and their impact on reasoning (progressives tending to privilege fairness/compassion- conservatives more swayed by authority/disgust/ingroup issues), Altemeyer’s RWA scale, Drew Westen’s MRI scanning (revealing different brain responses to inputs according to political persuasion).

Progressives are viscerally disgusted by many of the tactics that right-wingers use routinely (e.g. lies, sophistry, fear mongering, propaganda generally, disruption of progressive blogs) – the progressive instinct is to engage them with the tools that they themselves respond to: reason, logic, truth, fairness. Too often all it does is feed and empower the wingnuts – hand the floor over to them, move the overton window a bit more their way (while those listening out for a clear, constructive progressive voice simply turn off, drift away, fall silent, lose all conviction). I think the right-wingers would call that a win.

Shorter version: So y’all had to go feeding the troll, wrestling with the pig, when a simple stfu would have sufficed

66

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.12.09 at 7:46 am

Charitable giving and non-profit organizations are also possibilities, are they not?

Government is a non-profit organization. Charity has its niches, like organ donations. But in general, modern healthcare is an industry, like the military. Back in the day a bunch of volunteer militiamen would fight a war, and if you suffered from gangrene you would ask someone to saw your leg off. These days everything is an industry, very complicated industry, and the healthcare is even a (mostly) for-profit industry. I don’t think charity can run an insurance company, and most of the problems in healthcare have something to do with incentives (and resulting patterns of behavior) of the participants – private insurance companies, doctors, hospitals.

When the government steps in, they have a duty to at least consider cost/benefit ratios.

Right. And they (theoretically, at least) have a decent set of incentives to do it. They are not trying to make a profit. They (theoretically) care about the wellbeing of the population in general and each citizen in particular. They (theoretically) can be held accountable. And they are not emotionally involved. Their mission is to provide medial care – yes within given parameters, constrains; within the budget.

Private insurance’ incentives are plain wrong. All they want is to raise you premium and reduce the expenditure. Their mission is to make profit, and competition doesn’t work because in this area customers are not rational and products offered by competitors can’t be easily compared. These are not DVD palyers.

And aren’t we forgetting that the whole promise of universal health care is that everyone gets what they need? Right? Or is it, you get what the Government Health Board Determines you need based on a formula they have developed with the help of many experts?

I think the promise of universal health care is that everyone is entitled to a certain reasonable level of health care. You probably won’t be entitled for a private hospital room and a nose job. The usual sort of rationing. Those, less critical things, you can purchase yourself or buy an additional private insurance.

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The Raven 08.12.09 at 7:50 am

Lane,

Last things first, no the border cannot be airtight, it cannot stop 100% of those attempting to cross. But it can be made much more secure than it is. Millions of people pour across every year. Drop that number to tens of thousands and I’ll call the work done.

When people are willing to risk death to cross the border, this is difficult. But there is a way. You hominids could turn the border into a killing field. That would stop unwanted hominids from crossing. Hey, more food for us corvids!

When the solution is mass murder, it’s wrong, no matter how good the reasons are.

& I’m so out of this one!

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Charles Crawford 08.12.09 at 10:42 am

A must read on Obamacare: a lifelong Democrat makes some firm points:

“Face it: Virtually all nationalized health systems, neither nourished nor updated by profit-driven private investment, eventually lead to rationing.

I just don’t get it. Why the insane rush to pass a bill, any bill, in three weeks? And why such an abject failure by the Obama administration to present the issues to the public in a rational, detailed, informational way? The U.S. is gigantic; many of our states are bigger than whole European nations. The bureaucracy required to institute and manage a nationalized health system here would be Byzantine beyond belief and would vampirically absorb whatever savings Obama thinks could be made. And the transition period would be a nightmare of red tape and mammoth screw-ups, which we can ill afford with a faltering economy.”

Is any of that essentially untrue?
http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2009/08/12/town_halls/index.html

Charles

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belle le triste 08.12.09 at 10:55 am

to save anyone else bothering to click through at 67, the “lifelong Democrat” making “firm” and “must-read” points is in fact camille paglia

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Uncle Kvetch 08.12.09 at 11:01 am

a lifelong Democrat makes some firm points

What, Tom Friedman couldn’t find a cab driver for you?

And why such an abject failure by the Obama administration to present the issues to the public in a rational, detailed, informational way?

Part of it is that they’ve chosen to triangulate on this issue just like Clinton & Clinton did in 1994. A single-payer system would be infinitely easier to explain to the public, and to debate on the merits, but that would be contrary to the corporate interests to which both political parties are beholden, so it’s out. That’s one problem.

But beyond that, I don’t know how you successfully present the issues in a “rational, detailed, informational way” when your opponents are willing to simply make shit up. “Rational, detailed and informational” don’t stand a chance against “Obama is going to put your parents to death when he deems them no longer useful to society.”

Byzantine beyond belief […] a nightmare of red tape and mammoth screw-ups

I have to assume this is meant in jest. No American who has dealt with a private health insurance company or HMO could write these words without laughing hysterically. Nice one.

In short, if the writer of that paragraph is a “lifelong Democrat,” I am Marie of Romania.

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Phil 08.12.09 at 11:11 am

I think the promise of universal health care is that everyone is entitled to a certain reasonable level of health care. You probably won’t be entitled for a private hospital room and a nose job.

Basically you’re entitled to be investigated, diagnosed, medicated, cured and kept alive, whatever the condition might be, without ever having to worry about what it all costs or where the money’s coming from. I think that’s quite a good thing.

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Chris 08.12.09 at 4:01 pm

Millions of people pour across every year. Drop that number to tens of thousands and I’ll call the work done.

Well, maybe you, personally, will, and maybe you won’t. But the anti-immigration movement will move the goalposts in order to avoid engaging the substance, and we both know it.

And trying to enforce laws already on the books does not require more laws, or more and bigger government. Enforcing the border (and illegal employment) is a matter of will, not resources.

It does if your current efforts are inadequate to achieve the desired results. What, you think the border patrol just doesn’t want to patrol the border? If you want society to work harder on something, you need more people working on it, or working longer hours, or with better equipment and facilities, or something like that. All of which cost money and increase the scope of government.

Unless you think you can patrol the border with 3 guys on motorcycles, you’ve already admitted that resources matter. I suppose you could argue that our current resources, differently employed, would produce better results, but that’s an empirical argument that needs evidence to support it – you can’t just pontificate about it and expect to be taken seriously (still less wave away the whole issue as “a matter of will” – real life is not a Green Lantern comic).

Charitable giving and non-profit organizations are also possibilities, are they not?

They are proven inadequate and vulnerable to free-riding. The solution to both of these problems is well known: taxation. People might not like paying taxes, but if everyone else is paying them too, then society can actually come up with the resources to solve problems of collective action.

the whole promise of universal health care is that everyone gets what they need

Considering that that would require both unlimited resources and omniscient doctors, I don’t think much of anyone who is promising that. It is a goal that can only be approached asymptotically.

Given that caveat, though, it’s certainly possible to approach the ideal closer than we are right now. “Everyone gets as much as it is practical to provide of whatever the best available evidence indicates they need” isn’t quite as snappy, but it’s a lot more achievable.

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someguy 08.13.09 at 3:25 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps,

Really? Whenever I here private school I think Catholic. That is probably because most everyone I have ever known who sent to a private school went to a Catholic private school. And partly because this the breakdown of private school attendance

Catholic 42.5%
Nonsectarian 19.4%
Conservative Christian 15.2%
Baptist 5.5%
Lutheran 3.7%
Jewish 4.7%
Episcopal 2.1%
Seventh-day Adventist 1.1%
Calvinist 0.6%
Friends 0.4%

http://www.capenet.org/facts.html

In a larger sense I am confused about what difference it makes. We know that private schools can provide the same education at a much reduced cost.

Right now many of those private schools are Catholic. So what? With vouchers anyone who wants to attend could attend and get the same education at a lower cost. People frightened by the term Catholic school could choose not to attend.

All the studies seem to indicate that this does nothing to hurt public education. If anything the available data suggests that the competition leads to better educational outcomes for both the private and public school students.

Further I am pretty sure that there is nothing special about Catholics that makes them the only ones capable of providing the same education at a lower cost.

You cited education as an area where private markets are destined to fail and the government must step in.

“Because, I claim, this is an area where market approaches are destined to fail. Market approach works best for mass-production of cheap identical things. Healthcare is very different: it’s complicated, consumer is not well educated about his options and costs; moreover: often he is not trying to minimize the cost/benefit ratio, because often it’s a matter of life and death. This seems to be exactly the kind of situation where governments step in and do what they do, take care of general welfare. Same as with public education, military, police, etc.”

I have pointed out that it is actually the case that private markets provide the same education at a lower cost.

If as you claim health care is the same situation as education, why shouldn’t we expect the private market to provide the same care at a lower cost?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.13.09 at 6:41 pm

OK, forget about the Catholic schools (although they clearly don’t have anything to do with “private market”); this model you like is exactly like a universal healthcare model practiced by many European countries: private hospitals – public financing (vouchers in your case). So, what ‘s the problem?

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someguy 08.13.09 at 7:28 pm

“OK, forget about the Catholic schools (although they clearly don’t have anything to do with “private market”); “

The private education market doesn’t consist of just Catholic Schools. How is it not a private market? People buy education from a wide assortment of private education providers.

“this model you like is exactly like a universal healthcare model practiced by many European countries: private hospitals – public financing (vouchers in your case). “

So you suppport the one of the Repbulican Health Care reform plans I provided a link to above?

The heart of the plan seems to be public vouchers for private care.

http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=HealthCareReform.Home

If so, excellent, no problem.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.13.09 at 7:58 pm

Vatican is as much a ‘private’ education provider as the US government. Why does it seem complicated?

In your school experiment – I get the impression that the government simply pays for child’s education, while your healthcare plan has tax credits and savings accounts. There are many problems with tax credits and savings accounts, for example: most people don’t pay much federal taxes and don’t have anything to put into these accounts. So, if you change your healthcare plan in such a way that it simply pays for medical care – then yes, it’ll be acceptable.

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someguy 08.13.09 at 8:35 pm

“Vatican is as much a ‘private’ education provider as the US government. Why does it seem complicated?”

One important difference is folks voluntarily give the Vatican money to have their children educated. If they don’t feel that education is worth the money, they don’t volunteer the money.

The EITC, Earned Income Tax Credit, is currently enjoyed by millions who don’t have to pay any income tax. It is a negative income tax. Presumably the tax credit for health care works the same way. I am almost certain it would. I re-call reading bits of the plan that very strongly implied that.

Assuming the tax is negative, do you have any issues?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.13.09 at 8:53 pm

They don’t voluntarily give money to Vatican, it’s tax money collected by the US government just the same. Then the US government gives them a choice of US-run schools or Vatican-run schools, and some choose Vatican. You think a Vatican-run school is better – that’s fine with me.

Well, not everybody gets EITC, and what’s the point of all this anyway? If they want to give everybody medical insurance, why not just give everybody medical insurance?

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someguy 08.13.09 at 9:32 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps,

“Well, not everybody gets EITC, and what’s the point of all this anyway? If they want to give everybody medical insurance, why not just give everybody medical insurance?”

Because you get choice, competition, and the profit incentive remains. Same reasons free markets work better than command and control.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.13.09 at 9:54 pm

Who’s competing in your plan – insurance companies?

I’ll accept (provisionally) that you may want the providers – labs and hospitals, maybe even the doctors – to compete, but all an insurance company does is negotiating with providers, collecting the premium, paying your bills, and pocketing the difference; insurance company is a middle-man who rips everybody off. Market doesn’t always work better, in this case command and control representing your interests is much preferable.

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someguy 08.13.09 at 10:06 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps,

They work better in education, which was one of your examples of where markets cannot work, same as with health care was your claim. If you have an education market even the Vatican vs the US govt, you can get the same education cheaper.

“but all an insurance company does is negotiating with providers, collecting the premium, paying your bills, and pocketing the difference; insurance company is a middle-man who rips everybody off. “

That is a lot! And you left a lot out!

What does a cell phone company provide? A tower and a bill? Goodness what a ripoff!

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.14.09 at 7:04 am

Someguy, first of all, your rhetoric about the market, competition and profit motives doesn’t follow from your school experiment example. Think about it:
1. religious schools don’t have a profit motive, their motive is a chance to brainwash your child and create a life-long customer.
2. they don’t compete by lowering the price. They get a fixed-price voucher and they have no incentive to reduce the price farther.
3. the parents don’t choose schools based on their prices.
4. there are no insurance companies in your school experiment. The government sets the price and requirements, and pays the bill. School is the equivalent of a hospital, not insurance company.

If you like this model, you should love Canadian healthcare model.

A cell phone company is a huge rip off, that’s true, very much so. But at least they don’t place themselves between you and the real human being who actually provides the service, like your doctor.

Imagine a whole new layer of cell phone insurance companies between you and the cell phone companies – would that help? If not, why not? If yes, then why not add more – 2, 3, 4 more layers?

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