I’m With Stupid

by Henry on November 24, 2009

“Ilya Somin at the Volokhs”:http://volokh.com/2009/11/24/in-limited-praise-of-right-wing-populism/

I am no fan of populism of either the left or right-wing variety. In my view, most populist movements exploit voter ignorance and irrationality to promote policies that tend to do far more harm than good. That said, I have been pleasantly surprised by the right-wing populist reaction to the economic crisis and Obama’s policies. With rare exceptions, right-wing populists such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and the Tea Party protesters, have advocated free market approaches to dealing with the crisis, and have attacked Obama and the Democratic Congress for seeking massive increases in government spending and regulation. They have not responded in any of several much worse ways that seemed like plausible alternatives a year ago, and may still be today. … True, much of their rhetoric is oversimplified, doesn’t take account of counterarguments, and is unfair to opponents. But the same can be said for nearly all political rhetoric directed at a popular audience made up of rationally ignorant voters who pay only very limited attention to politics and don’t understand the details of policy debates. On balance, however, the positions taken by the right-wing populists on these issues are basically simplified versions of those taken by the most sophisticated libertarian and limited-government conservative economists and policy scholars. There has been relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories.

I don’t agree with Somin on much of anything at all, but usually find him an interesting writer. This post, however, seems at best badly out of touch with reality. Somin is immediately challenged by one of his readers on the death panels slur and responds:

It is a badly flawed and unfair argument. But I think it’s actually just an extreme version of a genuine point against government control of health care: that government would have to ration care and make decisions denying life-saving treatment to many people — as actually happens in socialized medicine systems.

And as happens in free market medicine systems too – the rationing merely takes a different form as has been frequently pointed out on this blog. But more to the point – would Somin be similarly generous in allowing, say, that 9/11 Truthers were arguing “an extreme version of” the “genuine point” that the Bush administration could have and should have done more to prevent it? I doubt it – perhaps I’m wrong.

I’m not averse to a little populism, and I can sort-of understand how American libertarian intellectuals – who have never had a mass movement to call their own – might get a bit wobbly-kneed at the sight of marching teabaggers. But to suggest that Tea Party rhetoric is somewhat overheated and unfair, but based on a fundamentally sound view of government – wtf? And that’s not even to get into Glenn Beck’s defence of the “white culture” that Obama apparently hates so much …

Update: Somin responds in an update to his original post, to suggest that Beck’s claim that Obama hated ‘white culture’ was “stupid” but was an aberration. Personally, I would choose rather stronger terms than “stupid” to describe this statement, such as e.g. ‘viciously attempting to stir up race hatred’ – perhaps we have different levels of sensitivity to this kind of language. More generally, Somin seems to be sticking to his claim that there is “relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories” among rightwing populists, and that the examples that people are coming up with (e.g. Beck’s continued ‘investigations’ into purported concentration camps that the Obama administration is building to house dissidents) are old tropes and are not a ‘major part’ of the right wing reaction to the Obama presidency. This claim is, frankly, completely baffling. When Glenn Beck (whom Somin himself specifically namechecks in his original post as an exemplar of what he is talking about) repeatedly suggests that America is moving towards a totalitarian state, subordinated to a world government run by Maoists and Marxists, where dissidents are likely to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps, it is quite safe to say that “strange crackpot ideas” and “weird conspiracy theories” are close to the heart of the right wing populism that Somin likes. To believe otherwise seems to me either to reflect an absence of actual knowledge of what Glenn Beck regularly says, or to be labouring under the influence of a particularly dangerous form of delusion and denial. Somin also “responds”:https://crookedtimber.org/2009/11/24/im-with-stupid/#comment-296208 in comments here to suggest that the cases of 9/11 Truthers and death panels are not comparable – Harry “responds”:https://crookedtimber.org/2009/11/24/im-with-stupid/#comment-296290 better than I can. Finally, I note in passing that I at least think it good practice for a blogger responding to a criticism on another blog to link back to that blog in his or her response so that his or her readers can evaluate for themselves whether or not that criticism sticks.



dsquared 11.24.09 at 6:27 pm

On balance, however, the positions taken by the right-wing populists on these issues are basically simplified versions of those taken by the most sophisticated libertarian and limited-government conservative economists and policy scholars

As far as I can see, this is true, although if I were Ilya Somin blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy, I would try to hush it up.


Steve LaBonne 11.24.09 at 7:01 pm

As far as I can see, this is true, although if I were Ilya Somin blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy, I would try to hush it up.

You’re forgetting that glibertarians are incapable of feeling shame.


P O'Neill 11.24.09 at 8:05 pm

Among the puzzles is that one of Ron Paul’s 2008 positions — deep suspicion of the Fed — has gone mainstream, but those sophisticated libertarians still don’t see him as one of their own.


bert 11.24.09 at 8:15 pm

By coddling Wall Street, the Democrats have exposed a massive flank to right-wing populism.
Expect to hear from Huckabee along these lines (certainly the longstanding view of Huckabee true believer Jim Pinkerton).
And also, if those around her burbling about William Jennings Bryan are listened to, from Sarah Palin (although I will believe that when I see it).
All that’s needed is for the economy to continue to hurt, and the attack lines write themselves. The Volokh crowd are speaking too soon.


Ilya Somin 11.24.09 at 8:16 pm

But more to the point – would Somin be similarly generous in allowing, say, that 9/11 Truthers were arguing “an extreme version of” the “genuine point” that the Bush administration could have and should have done more to prevent it? I doubt it – perhaps I’m wrong.

Arguing that Bush deliberately caused 9/11 is not a “extreme version” of the genuine point that he could have done more to prevent it (which by the way I believe he could have). It is a very different sort of claim altogether. By contrast, the (false) claim that the health care bill creates death panels is a more extreme version of the true claim that it will lead to government rationing of various types of medical treatment. Death panels are simply a more explicit (and more offensively named) form of rationing than the bill actually contemplates.


Martin Bento 11.24.09 at 8:40 pm

The left has two big inhibitions here that are hobbling it: it won’t go populist, and it is reluctant to attack Obama. Even Michael Moore, probably the most influential left-wing populist right now, soft-pedals attacks on Obama, attacking Summers and Geithner while not seeing fault in the man who hired them.


b9n10t 11.24.09 at 9:12 pm


I think you need to distinguish between the “left” and the Democrats. The Democrats have decided -in fact, let’s be generous and call it a calculated bargain- to take $ from Big Finance so that they can compete in campaigns campaigns and implement a center right agenda.

Surely Michael Moore agrees w/ this analysis, but would also conclude that attacking Obama won’t further progressive causes, it will undermine potential turnout for ’10 and ’12 and lead to a reactionary agenda. The best PR for the “left” is to publically push for progressive causes, support Obama as a pragmatic leftist, and excoriate Republicans and centrist Dems. Of couse, all this is consistent w/ privately acknowedging that Obama is doing his best to undermine his own power.


djw 11.24.09 at 9:21 pm

This post was just a set-up for D2’s punchline, right?


Helen 11.24.09 at 9:35 pm

I would disagree that the right-wing populists haven’t responded in “worse ways”. I see references to ideas that it’s their duty to rise up and overthrow the government and that the tree of liberty is washed in the blood of, etc, etc. Also, “Kill him!”. But perhaps I’m not properly across this issue and the teabagger movement and the more sinister elements are separate?


Steve Reuland 11.24.09 at 9:54 pm

There has been relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories.

Sure. As long as we don’t count the Birthers, the people who think ACORN stole the election, Sarah Palin’s death panels, those who think Obama is a muslim, Glenn Beck’s FEMA concentration camps, fears over Obama’s Hitler youth squad, claims that the health care bill gives subsidies to illegal aliens, the people who think their taxes have gone up when they’ve gone down, those who claim Obama is deliberately aiding terrorism, accusations that Obama hates white people, those who call the President a Nazi and/or a Communist, those who openly speak of treason, etc. Then there has been relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories….

…among the eight or so teabaggers who don’t fit into any of the above categories.


Martin Bento 11.24.09 at 10:02 pm

The reason the teabaggers and the libs sing the same songs on the economy is because the same paymasters are calling the tune. One of the richest men in the world is running the buses to ferry people to Bachman rallies. Health insurance lobbies and Rupert Murdoch have massively underwritten the tea parties. This is not populism; it’s, to coin a term, Poputurf. If poputurf sounds like something your dog would do, well, how apt.


Cryptic ned 11.24.09 at 10:39 pm

What are “the libs”?


mpowell 11.24.09 at 10:41 pm

This kind of argument does not help Somin’s credibility much. The, “populists are all bad but if I had to choose one movement I’d choose this one” approach is just very weak. It’s a setup to assault your political opponents with lots of unfair attacks while denying the validity of any counter-criticisms by distancing yourself from those unpleasant aspect of the movement whenever you are pinned down on a specific point. The only response is to ignore or to mock; Somin has already established that he is not going to engage anyone fairly on this one.


Martin Bento 11.24.09 at 10:43 pm

Cryptic Ned: The Libertarians. Sorry, too cryptic, I guess.


bert 11.24.09 at 11:42 pm

… the Birthers, the people who think ACORN stole the election, Sarah Palin’s death panels, those who think Obama is a muslim, Glenn Beck’s FEMA concentration camps, fears over Obama’s Hitler youth squad, claims that the health care bill gives subsidies to illegal aliens, the people who think their taxes have gone up when they’ve gone down, those who claim Obama is deliberately aiding terrorism, accusations that Obama hates white people, those who call the President a Nazi and/or a Communist, those who openly speak of treason, etc …

Ilya Somin isn’t talking about nuttiness in general. He’s talking about the economic policy content of what’s being said on the pinhead right. And your lengthy list only confirms that he’s pretty much correct. The only economic populism in your list involves complaining about taxes, something Americans have been doing since the original tea party, and which incidentally is a membership requirement at the Cato Institute. Barbara Walters asked Sarah Palin about economic policy. Her response was pure supply side orthodoxy (http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=9111608, includes ads, sorry).
So Somin’s got it right. He is with stupid.
The only thing I’d add, as per #4, is that if electoral incentives remain on current trends he shouldn’t count on that staying unchanged through the midterms.


politicalfootball 11.25.09 at 12:06 am

I believe this is the first time I’ve ever seen a blog troll a (former) commenter.


Steve Reuland 11.25.09 at 12:15 am

Bert, he clearly was talking about nuttiness in general, as per his statement, “There has been relatively little advocacy of strange, crackpot ideas or weird conspiracy theories.” I don’t know how you draw the conclusion that only a narrow version of economic populism counts, if one could even parse the movement that finely. He speaks of Obama and Obama’s policies in general, and he even goes so far as to give a half-assed defense of “death panels”. Why wouldn’t he have just said, “I wasn’t referring to health care” instead of trying (and failing) to explain why it wasn’t nutty?

That aside, I think it’s pretty clear that the Teabagger movement has little to do with economics of any stripe and is quintessentially an anti-Obama movement. None of their economic complaints make any sense, even on their own terms. Deficits, taxes, and bailouts weren’t bad — or at least not worth protesting and threatening treason over — until Obama came into power.


BillCinSD 11.25.09 at 1:24 am

“In my view, most populist movements exploit voter ignorance and irrationality to promote policies that tend to do far more harm than good.”

if you substitute libertarian for populist, isn’t this just as true of a statement? well if libertarians could come together enough to have a movement


David 11.25.09 at 1:46 am

Well, I’m impressed by Ilya Somin’s sheer gall. Henry gives an example of how he was challenged on the Death Panels slur and his wholly inadequate and laughable defense and he has the gall to come her and virtually repeat said lame defense. Never heard of the guy. I guess his interesting stuff was in the distant past and has been rationed out of existence. As for the Volokh Conspracy, I’ve always considerd Volokh to be only a somewhat smarter Glenn Reynolds, which isn’t saying much. Push comes to shove and he’ll always yield to the authoritarians.


bert 11.25.09 at 2:19 am

Q: “… how you draw the conclusion …”?
A: Basic reading comprehension. That’s how.

Some commenters think that my argument is refuted by the fact that Beck, Limbaugh and other right-wing populists were at the forefront of the anti-illegal immigration hysteria two years ago … My point however is that this has not been a major part of their response to Obama and the economic crisis. I do not claim that they have actually become libertarian on immigration issues. I would say the same thing with respect to various other stupid or offensive things that Beck and the others have said on other issues.


Steve Reuland 11.25.09 at 2:32 am

Bert, simple question: Is health care an “economic issue” of which Solin refers to, yes or no? Either way you must, by logical necessity, be wrong in one or more of your claims.


Steve Reuland 11.25.09 at 2:40 am

By contrast, the (false) claim that the health care bill creates death panels is a more extreme version of the true claim that it will lead to government rationing of various types of medical treatment. Death panels are simply a more explicit (and more offensively named) form of rationing than the bill actually contemplates.

I guess there’s nothing strange, crackpot, or weird about libertarians arguing that the government is leaving people to die if it declines to pay for certain treatments and leaves it up to the patient or private insurance to pay instead. It’s not as if libertarians ever wanted to shift the burden of payment from the government to the private sector or anything like that.


bert 11.25.09 at 2:47 am

I was just looking at his second update, where he talks about Beck’s “Obama’s a racist” comment. Apparently that doesn’t count because it was an isolated incident rather than a widely circulated talking point.

I think if there’s confusion here, it’s Sorin’s.
My apologies for the abruptness in my previous comment.


Michael Drake 11.25.09 at 3:57 am

“…basically simplified versions of [positions] taken by the most sophisticated libertarian and limited-government conservative economists and policy scholars”

I’m trying to identify the features of the sophisticated version that have been abstracted away, and drawing a blank.


Joshua Holmes 11.25.09 at 5:52 am

I’m trying to identify the features of the sophisticated version that have been abstracted away, and drawing a blank.

The part most tea-partiers miss is that it’s also bad when Republicans do it.


Guest 11.25.09 at 6:01 am

A quick Pro-Tip: if you saw it on Volokh, it’s wrong.


Martin Bento 11.25.09 at 7:00 am

Is comment #5 actually from Somin or is someone posting under his name?


Martin Bento 11.25.09 at 7:05 am

b9n10t , that may be what Michael Moore is thinking, but I think it’s a bad strategy. If Obama is not visibly attacked from the left, what he’s doing defines the left in the public’s mind. Which is neither accurate nor helpful, to say the least.


ajay 11.25.09 at 11:14 am

the (false) claim that the health care bill creates death panels is a more extreme version of the true claim that it will lead to government rationing of various types of medical treatment.

That’s actually a lie, and Somin knows it’s a lie. If the government rations something, it means that it restricts how much you can have. If the government rations, say, petrol to 20 gallons a month, that’s all you’re allowed to buy. If you want more petrol, you have to buy it on the black market, which is by definition illegal.
But that won’t happen in health care.
What will happen is that the government will decide how much of which types of health care it is going to pay for. If you want more, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. This isn’t rationing, any more than the state school system imposes rationing. Your kids may not get, say, piano lessons from their state school, but there’s nothing to stop you from paying a piano teacher to teach them on Saturday mornings – any more than there is to stop you paying for additional private health care if you aren’t getting it from the public health care scheme.


cod3fr3ak 11.25.09 at 12:25 pm

Excellent point ajay.

To the posters that provided the Palin link:
Why are they allowed to continue to play out the supply-side economics theory? It failed horribly – not once but twice!


Barry 11.25.09 at 2:23 pm

Between comments 1 and 10, Ilya is very severely p@wned (pardon my bad l33tspeak).

The best description of the Volokh guys was this, by Jim Henley (http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2004/06/30/3505):
“It’s not like Eugene Volokh thinks much of me, either, but I’ve always considered his specialty to be showy moral handwringing on the way to siding with Power anyway. The further you get from standard Republican issues like guns and university speech codes, the more likely he is to arrive, with exquisite regret, at the conclusion that the State, particularly when helmed by George W. Bush, must have its way. ”

The reason I say this is that Eugene is the best of a bad lot – all the rest of the posters there are object lessons about why the Federalist Society is evil, and why ‘right-wing libertarianism’ is an oxymoron.

And the posters are head and shoulders above 90% of the commenters.


Walt 11.25.09 at 2:45 pm

ajay: That’s a really important point.


engels 11.25.09 at 3:33 pm

In the literal two-tins-of-spam-a-week sense it’s hard to think of anything that is, or might conceivably be, rationed today. That’s not just because, as Ajay says, you’re allowed to top-up what the state provides (but note that this isn’t everywhere the case with bealth care, eg. in Canada) but also because few goods are distributed on the principle of every citizen receiving exactly X micro-widgets per time-interval.

So it’s clear that they mean rationing in a looser, metaphorical sense but I have never seen them spell out what it is. In the loosest sense, of course, where ‘rationing’ just means there are limits imposed on what you can have, this is true in a market system just as much as in a state one.

I suspect that the word is just being used rhetorically, because it evokes government involvement, but then of course this makes the argument circular. Why shouldn’t we have state run health care? Because the state would be involved!

So to be honest I think the whole ‘rationing’ argument is pretty stupid and confused. It’s just rhetoric and not an attempt to make a serious argument. And the fact that ‘intelligent’ libertarians like Ilya Somin buy it into just proves–again–why libertarianism is, or ought to be, regarded as something of a joke.


Henri Vieuxtemps 11.25.09 at 3:46 pm

Well, they do indeed ration organs; deciding, I imagine, quite literally, who will live and who will die. What’s in the name; one could call it “death panels”, I suppose. But is it a bad thing?


Netbrian 11.25.09 at 3:48 pm

The government will not buy ponies for people on foodstamps. This is rationing.


ajay 11.25.09 at 3:56 pm

Henri: no, the US government does not ‘ration organs’. It really doesn’t. A non-profit organisation called UNOS, which is made up of hospitals, histocompatibility labs, medical associations and lots of other entities, acts as a sort of clearing house and decides which organs go to which recipients.

engels: I don’t know where you got the impression that you’re not allowed to buy non-state health care in Canada, but it’s not true. 65% of Canadians have some sort of private health insurance.


ajay 11.25.09 at 4:03 pm

In the literal two-tins-of-spam-a-week sense it’s hard to think of anything that is, or might conceivably be, rationed today.

Votes are rationed at one per person per election… :)


dsquared 11.25.09 at 4:04 pm

It strikes me that you could therefore model the current system as one in which the government rationed healthcare via a death panel that always said “no” (and that therefore you had to either buy the healthcare yourself or not get it), with the administration proposal being that it should sometimes say “yes”, and the Volokhs, serious conservatives, teabaggers et al saying “no! the government death panel must always refuse!”.


Henri Vieuxtemps 11.25.09 at 4:04 pm

Well, surely they must be authorized by the government, one way or another.


ajay 11.25.09 at 4:07 pm

38: nice one. (though really it’s ‘no, unless you’re old, or a soldier, or an old soldier’)


harry b 11.25.09 at 4:39 pm

Rationing leads to death without deliberately causing deaths. Death panels deliberately cause death.

George W Bush’s negligence led to the 9/11 attacks being successful without deliberately causing it and the deaths that came from it. The Truthers believe that he deliberately caused the deaths.

How is this not parallel, Ilya?


Phil 11.25.09 at 4:58 pm

the (false) claim that the health care bill creates death panels is a more extreme version of the true claim that it will lead to government rationing of various types of medical treatment

And I guess the (false) claim that the NHS wouldn’t have allowed Stephen Hawking to live was just a more extreme version of the true claim that the NHS has repeatedly saved Stephen Hawking’s life.

I don’t believe “death panels” started life as an extreme version of anything at all, as it goes – I think it was a lie, based on a deliberate misreading of some fairly innocuous “end of life care” provisions. But let’s take the point that “the government will decide whether your elderly relatives live or die” has a less extreme counterpart: say, “state-funded healthcare agencies will take complete control of the provision of healthcare and will, in certain extreme and difficult cases, decide whether or not an individual is given life-saving care”. Two points: firstly, even if anyone was saying that, the death panels smear would be a wild and irresponsible exaggeration. Secondly, nobody is saying that; nobody anywhere is saying that, as far as I can tell.


engels 11.25.09 at 5:41 pm

Henri, whatever ‘rationing’ does mean, it doesn’t mean ‘authorised by the government, one way of the other’, does it? If you really believe that (I have my doubts) you’d also have to say that the state rations marriages, foreign travel, new businesses, …

Ajay, since you ask, I got the idea from a Canadian guy hwo commented here a couple of times. It looks like I was wrong about that (parenthetical) point. My bad. According to this article, though, I was perhaps not as shockingly, inexplicably wrong as your comment might suggest —

B.C. gov’t gets tough with private clinic

A showdown over the future of medicare is expected to unfold in Vancouver today as the B.C. government threatens to shut down a private clinic that may start charging patients for services that should be free under the health care system.

In 2006, a Canadian court threatened to shut down one private clinic because it was planning to start accepting private payments from patients.

The emergence of private clinics and queue jumping has become a major issue in Canada.

There are many private clinics operating in the country, but they have mostly found ways to avoid openly confronting Canada’s medicare laws.

However, a Supreme Court of Canada decision last year which ruled that the Quebec government couldn’t stop patients from purchasing private insurance for health-care procedures provided under medicare, given that the public system often fails to provide service in a timely manner has emboldened private clinic proponents, who believe the decision gives them legal support.

In British Columbia, the health care budget is ballooning and the provincial government is under fire for bed shortages and long waits in emergency rooms.

In recent months, the B.C. New Democratic Party has attacked the provincial Liberal government for not cracking down on doctors it says have allowed patients to pay for access to private clinics.

In some cases, patients have been able to use their access to the private clinics to get to the front of the line for diagnostic tests, saving months or even years of waiting.

”I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said the NDP’s health critic Adrian Dix. ”The government’s position on private health care has been ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. It’s been a failure.”


Brett 11.25.09 at 5:43 pm

Beck argues that there are genuine Marxists in the Obama administration, not “Marxists” as in “Keynsians” or “progressives” or “people libertarians don’t like.” Either old-fashioned red-baiting isn’t a conspiracy theory according to Somin or he just doesn’t know Beck very well. (The second is pretty clearly true.)

The bigger problem: conspiracy theories have been normalized as standard political rhetoric, and that rhetoric is profitable for media outfits as well. Everyone gets Steve Reuland’s references – alas, a partial list.


Pete 11.25.09 at 5:53 pm

38: dsquared – unfortunately the lie extends to trying to convince people (by elision) that state healthcare will be go along with banning private healthcare, or be funded by taxing it into the ground or something.


ajay 11.25.09 at 5:59 pm

Engels, most Canadians have private health insurance to cover things that the state doesn’t cover, like optometry and dentistry. The story you quote is about private firms charging for care that the state does cover – medically necessary hospital care.


engels 11.25.09 at 6:02 pm

So would it be fair to say that medically necessary hospital care is (or is supposed to be) rationed? (I can’t claim to know anything about Canada apart from Leonard Cohen and Avril Lavigne…)


engels 11.25.09 at 6:04 pm

Correction: that you’re not allowed to top-up medically necessary hospital care (or aren’t/weren’t supposed to be)?


ajay 11.25.09 at 6:37 pm

47: no, because there isn’t any upper limit to the amount you can consume set by the state. As far as I can tell, the private clinics in question weren’t providing hospital care that the patients would not have received through the state, they were just providing it faster. They weren’t topping up so much as queue-jumping.


engels 11.25.09 at 6:47 pm

Hrm, okay, but if that’s right then I think it is true that you ‘are not allowed to buy non-state health care’ (Ajay #36) in Canada for certain procedures…


alex 11.25.09 at 6:58 pm

Which is interesting, because it’s way more draconian than the dreaded NHS; in the UK, anyone can buy medical treatments of any kind, cash down, at a wide variety of private institutions.

Not sure what that proves, other than that a stopped libertarian clock might sometimes be pointing vaguely near the right time.


Harry 11.25.09 at 8:59 pm

Thanks for the update, Henry. I did find a stark non-parallel after thinking about it. The truthers are, as far as I can tell, all sincere. Whereas many of the deathpanelists know damn well that they are lying.


jrb 11.25.09 at 9:32 pm

Sorry, this is a long post and perhaps a bit off topic, but I couldn’t let the exchange between ajay and engels stand.

Ajay wasn’t wrong in anything he said about the Canadian health system, but he may have left some room for misunderstanding. The Canadian system is quite complicated and hard to explain in a few lines, and some things get misunderstood by Americans because their system is so different. And I’m no expert, except for being an occasional participant.

First of all, the guidelines for how the health system is supposed to work (what’s covered and what isn’t) are set by the Federal Governernment and a portion of the money is supplied from Federal taxes, but the actual running of the system is a provinicial reponsibility, and each province pays for it out of its share of the federal taxes and provincial taxes and some user fees (many provinces charge a monthly fee which is usually around $80 to $100–but I’m out of touch with this as mine is paid by my employer as a benefit; I believe it is waived in most provinces for low or no income people). As long as the Federal guidelines are met, the provinces are (somewhat) able to run the system as they see fit (this is the first subject of controversy). Thus slightly different stories from people in different provinces. If the guidelines are not met the Federal government can threaten to withhold the provincial portion of the Federal taxes. I’m assuming this is the reason for the dispute in BC that engels quoted. The government in BC is actually a bit “right-wing” for Canada (although it is called the “Liberal” party it is really what is left over of an older party that was a little more right wing than the Canadian Conseratives) and probably wouldn’t mind having private clinics, but until the Federal government changes the guidelines there is a danger BC would not receive its Federal share. I don’t currently live in BC so I’m not as up on this as I might have been when I did live there.

In general as ajay said there are no limits, and there is no “rationing” of care, for life-threatening illnesses. In my personal experience (father, father-in-law, wife’s uncle) things like brain tumors and cancer are dealt with promptly and well. I’m not saying that mistakes never happen and there are no misdiagnoses, but never have I heard of a “faceless bureaucrat” denying any care that a doctor or surgeon decided was necessary.

With non-life threatening medical care it’s a bit different and here is where there are (probably) more differences between provinces. There are non-life threatening procedures that are covered (fairly extensive) and some that are deemed cosmetic. Cosmetic procedures have to be paid for by the person wanting the procedure. I gather insurance is available for these things, but few people buy it as it is apparently quite expensive. As you can imagine, there is huge room for vituperative arguments here, especially when one province decides that something previously covered is now to be deemed cosmetic. So, take joint replacements. As far as I know, these are covered in all provinces. But the recipient may have to wait a while (sometimes a long while depending on where they live) before they get the procedure done. Again, AFAIK no one is ever refused the procedure because of age (although no doubt some Canadian will immediately post calling me a liar) but might be turned down because of some other issue (such as less than a year to live, for instance). Again, AFAIK these are medical decisions, not “faceless bureaucrat” decisions.

You can get all sorts of medical insurance in Canada and there are no restrictions that I know of from the government. I believe you can get insurance that covers a private room instead of a ward and things like that.

By the way, the recent story about a Canadian woman who “lost her health insurance” because she was vacationing in Florida and put pictures on her Facebook page was a disability insurance thing, which is entirely in the hands of private insurance in Canada. She was on disability for depression and was caught partying it up on vacation because she very kindly posted the pictures on Facebook, so the insurance company very rightly pointed out that she could probably go back to work. It had nothing to do with government health insurance.


ajay 11.26.09 at 9:27 am

jrb: it’s ridiculous that you think you have a right to butt into this conversation just because you have so-called ‘information’ and ‘experience’ and apparently ‘know what you’re talking about’ and can ‘explain it clearly’. Typical elitist.


engels 11.26.09 at 9:36 am

Yeag, jrb, isn’t there an ice hockey game you should watching?


Martin Bento 11.26.09 at 9:26 pm

That’s not really a fair representation of the situation with Glenn Beck and FEMA camp rumors. He appeared on FOX and friends, as a teaser to his own show, and said he couldn’t debunk the rumors. On the show, though, he unambiguously attacked the rumors. Or, more precisely, he had a guest debunk the rumors for him, not strictly contradicting the statement that *he* couldn’t debunk them (only the debunking side was represented).

Here is the transcript from the FOX site:


Or the clip if you prefer:


Part 2 (with some editorial overlays):


The original clip from FOX and friends is here (starts at about 1:50, so you can skip some generic Beck blather):


To me, it looks like the initial position was a bit of misdirection to generate interest. Which is dishonest, of course. Nonetheless, it is clear that Beck’s actual position is that there is no basis for the rumors of FEMA detention camps. And he relishes using the same “conspiracy freak” rhetoric that liberals ladle on him.

For liberals to keep misrepresenting his views on this, of course, helps his credibility, as his supporters can point to the charges of Olbermann and others, and then point to the transcript and make the case that the liberals and media are being unfair to him, which is true in this case, though not generally. Although he did kind of invite it with his initial misdirection.


Martin Bento 11.26.09 at 10:38 pm

Accidentally included the same link twice. Here is part 2 of the Beck show on FEMA camps (this comment is a correction to an earlier one, and if this one shows up before that, it is because that one is in moderation. I don’t know why).


Martin Bento 11.27.09 at 3:04 am

Oh, I just noticed that Somin repeats the Malhotra claim that 25% of Americans blame the financial crises on the Jews (or one third, depending on how strong a blame you mean). A claim that was debunked right here on Crooked Timber, effectively enough that Jewish Week magazine and the ADL themselves treated the study skeptically, citing among other concerns criticisms made by me and Henri Vieuxtemps, among others. Indeed, the 24% percent figure that Somin cites is one that Malhotra himself says “should not be taken literally” (quote in linked Jewish Week article). I don’t know what point there is to a “metaphorical” statistic, but I certainly wouldn’t cite one as fact.


Martin Bento 11.27.09 at 3:13 am

Sorry, I’d forgotten a bit of the details. 24% was the claimed figure for the general population; one third for Democrats. At this point, Malhotra seems prepared to stand behind neither number.


Tim Wilkinson 11.27.09 at 11:06 am

And so far the categorical prediction that the study (or studies) in question would never be worked up for publication remains firmly unfalsified (as does the even safer bet that no correction or retraction would be posted on the Boston Review web page), though in the meantime, a different paper on attitudes to the financial ‘crisis’ has appeared as a working paper: http://www.stanford.edu/~neilm/wp.

That one is also co-authored by the shadowy* Yotam Margalit, the senior partner, who appears to have washed his hands of the project as soon as the Boston Review article was published. Neil M did at least enter into a couple of discussions, and provided enough information for the article to be debunked (though not quite as comprehensively as it probably could have been had a few more questions been answered), so it’s a bit unfair if he gets all the blame…

Google results for jews malhotra margalit : WAS 1140 (@06.02.09); NOW 7040!

*Not to be confused with ‘shady’ (in joke – you have to know the literature).


Tim Wilkinson 11.27.09 at 11:36 am

(sorry meant to change ‘senior’ partner, to ‘silent’. I’m pretty sure I had the idea he was senior in one sense or another, but I seem to have mislaid my warrant for the assertion if I ever had it.)


Martin Bento 11.27.09 at 6:35 pm

Thanks, the paper you mention doesn’t seem to have either “Jews” or “anti-semitism” in the text, so I guess they’re not making the argument they made before. It does deal in some way with partisan effects (haven’t read it yet, just glanced at it).


Martin Bento 11.27.09 at 6:43 pm

“Malhotra Jews Democrats” is 48,600. Your results are artificially low because most of the entries don’t seem to mention the silent partner.


Tim Wilkinson 11.27.09 at 10:53 pm

#62 – Yes, it’s a different study (not necessarily a distinct survey though). I only mentioned it because it and not the roughly contemporary (and certainly not much later) anti-Semitism study has been written up. Some sort of evidence that the A-S study has been dropped. More will follow.

#63 – I was measuring continued net growth of web presence by comparison with past results, for which obviously the same search must be used. I’m not entirely sure of what to make of absolute number of hits taken in isolation, though the number does seem impressive. Except I shouldn’t say that, reminiscent as it is of a pet peeve (I have quite a menagerie), viz. remarks along the lines of “while this result is not significant, in informal terms it is highly suggestive…”


JJ 11.28.09 at 12:59 am

Somin is correct, the lunatic fringe are making simplified versions of standrad liberatarian policy proposals. The problem is that those proposals themselves are completely driven by ideology and so we are getting out on the street are gun-toting, simplified versions of utopian (in the perjorative sense) faith in markets and decentralization.

And, of course, Somin also has spent much of his intellectual career proclaiming that representative democracy is problematic because the citizenry is none-too-bright or incompetent or something. So perhpas he is right; that is why the lunatic fringe is buying liberatarin economic policy. They are none-too-bright.


harry b 11.28.09 at 1:31 am

Martin and Tim,

I did those searches, and once you get past the first 60 or so very few seem to refer to the offending piece.


Martin Bento 11.28.09 at 1:52 am

I looked at every tenth Google page on my version, and got about 15-20% relevance after 100 hits. So, good point, and good news, actually, as I was afraid this had gotten more blog play than it had.


Harry 11.28.09 at 2:05 am

Yes, I agree its good news. And, just to add, I’m impressed both with the report you link to and with your and HV’s role!


Martin Bento 11.28.09 at 2:39 am

Thank you very much.


Martin Bento 11.28.09 at 2:45 am

JJ, the tea partiers are not actually that many people, so it’s not fair to take them as the voice of “the people”. Also, many of the town hall disrupters turned out to be people with direct stakes in the health insurance industry, e.g., employees – Poputurf, as I said. What concerns me is that the Libertarians have a straightforward story and means to disseminate it, whereas liberals are re-evaluating things (especially the intellectual compromises they have made with the right) and don’t have the same mass communications conduits, nor are they pushing a messaage for which the audience has been primed for decades by having it be the only economic view they ever heard.


Tim Wilkinson 11.28.09 at 4:01 am

##66,67: Mine looked more relevant than that from a cursory look. But this kind of consideration underlies the points @64 about using ratios rather than absolutes. Doing so is likely to cancel the irrelevance effect – i.e. the (squints) six-ish-fold propagation since 2 Jun probably stands.

The matter of how to interpret the raw absolute numbers is open-ended. You can get finer and finer in analysing this stuff, and even if you go through and check each hit for relevance, you presumably want to weight for some sort of importance measure, for example readership, influence of readers.

But there’s also a different question of the ‘valence’ of the report, which throws all the numbers into question – the Jewish Week piece is included in the hits, but depending on what is being measured should perhaps count as -1 hit. Perhaps there are a lot more that are similarly critical on balance. For those, wider dissemination is actually a good thing not just for its corrective effect on those who have read uncritical reports, but for its general cautionary effect (unless that itself leads to underestimating the level of real anti-semitism, in which case it is pro tanto bad) and, I have to say, in drawing attention to those (ir)responsible.

And BTW if sodding Google would actually run the search I specified instead of ‘helpfully’ deriving what are supposed to be similar terms (in this case ‘Jewish’), then the number of irrelevant hits would have been reduced. I wouldn’t mind, if only this overweening helpfulness were made explicit and I could turn it off.


Tim Wilkinson 11.28.09 at 4:03 am

should be ‘minus one hit’ – minus sign being transformed by he server into strikethrough.


lemuel pitkin 11.28.09 at 4:58 am

Thanks to Martin B. and Tim W. for not letting the Malhotra paper go. Frustrating as it is that the authors seem likely to walk away from it with unblemished reputations, the fact that those “findings” aren’t going to further poison the public discourse seems like a small but real win for the universal fact-checking that blogs were supposedly going to provide.


Martin Bento 11.28.09 at 6:13 am

Well, I hope they aren’t going to further poison it, but I don’t expect a retraction from Somin or Kristol. I did what I could, and thanks for the kudos, but I think we’re all going to have to play whack-a-mole with this one for a while.


Martin Bento 11.28.09 at 6:37 am

I should add, though, that I imagine Somin is still following this thread, and I do think a retraction is in order, given that Margalit (I accidentally said Malhotra above) has disavowed the figure Somin cites.

Tim, I don’t see how criticism of exaggerated or skewed measures of antisemitism would increase antisemitism. I could come up with strained arguments that it would either tend to increase or decrease it, but I actually doubt it would have any effect. The roots of prejudice have to lie deeper or it wouldn’t have its emotional force.


Tim Wilkinson 11.29.09 at 12:03 pm

Martin @75: Not increase antisemitism; cause people to underestimate the level of real anti-semitism, by excessively discounting other reports which may be less skewed and relate to less inchoate forms of antisemitism. But a relatively remote possibility, and even though a bad, not necessarily a very significant onein the current climate. Nor is it one that should be allowed to inhibit criticism of those who, without any help from us, devalue the very idea of anti-semitism by blatantly over-hyping it (as well as, of course, falsely attributing it in the attempt to stifle criticism of various Israeli policies and practices).

lemuel pitkin @73 – thanks for the thanks!

I do think it’s worth making a conscious effort to include Margalit when referring to the article. Malhotra did at least show some willingness to address criticism, and even make (very limited) concessions about the quality of the article. (I personally thought he came across as somewhat ingenuous, with just the slightest air of the ill-briefed junior politician sent out to absorb flak – though I could be imagining that.) In any case, none of that can be said of Margalit, and he certainly shouldn’t be allowed to do a disappearing trick.

As MB points out (though without hinting at any undeclared interest, formal or material, operative or not), Margalit’s esoteric correctio: “When we found these results we thought it was important to put it out there…there is an issue here, but I wouldn’t take the number 24 [percent] literally” raises the question why one would publish and stand by figures which shouldn’t be taken literally (numerically?).

Given the evident tendency of Israeli militants to make use of anti-semitism charges in the attempt to discredit critics (often Democrats, and qua Democrats, I believe?), Margalit has a prima facie motive for conscious or unconscious bias and the prioritisation of impact over accuracy. He must in any case have some understanding of these particular issues, and should (i.e. may be presumed to) know better.

I must confess to a twinge of unease here, but I do think it’s fair comment and ought to be said.


Martin Bento 11.29.09 at 10:56 pm

I would *definitely* leave Israel out of it. Nothing in the study (as far as we know) or article mentioned Israel, so it has no direct relelvance. Imputing motives is always inferential, and the inference drawn here seems highly tenuous. I think it illogical and unfair when people equate opposition to Israeli policies with antisemitism, and this inference reinforces that association. Malhotra and Margalit attempted to link antisemtism to Democrats and to opposition to tax cuts for Wall Street. Neither of those things has any link to opposition to Israeli policies.

Although practices vary, I think the usual standard is that senior authors are listed first in academic publications. That is why I assumed Malhotra was the lead author, though possibly both are equal.


Martin Bento 11.29.09 at 11:02 pm

On the question of affecting perceptions of antisemitism generally, one could see a “boy who cried wolf” effect from debunking distorted, exaggerated, or poorly-supported claims. I would say that is that fault of those who made the claims. However, there could also be a “where there’s smoke there’s fire” effect even to debunked claims. Like I said, in the abstract, you could argue either way. In truth, if we manage to ameliorate the impact of this study, that would be a lot, and I don’t see any potential for what we are doing here to have impact beyond that, and, if so, it’s not easy to say what the impact would even be.


lemuel pitkin 11.29.09 at 11:56 pm

. Nothing in the study (as far as we know) or article mentioned Israel, so it has no direct relevance.

Right. There are plenty of examples of linking criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, but this seems to be doing something less common, linking support for financial regulation with anti-semitism.

If we are going to talk about undeclared interests, Malhotra’s former employment at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup seems like a better place to start.

There are some political science folks around CT, no? Would be interesting if someone could ask Mahlotra or Margalit in a professional setting if they planned to publish anything on this, or to release the survey.


Martin Bento 11.30.09 at 1:04 am

I had a look at the new Malhotra/Margalit study Tim links to above. It looks at how variations in how the question is asked affect support for the stimulus. Since the financial crises predated the stimulus by several months, I imagine these surveys are at least as recent as the one cited in Boston Review, if they are indeed different surveys. If so, it’s interesting that they did not bring in what they now say is the important finding from the BR study: that ethnic cuing increases resistance to Wall Street tax cuts. One of the topics of the current study is how cuing affects support for policy, specifically, how blaming one or the other party (i.e., Democrats or Republicans) for the crisis affects support for the stimulus for people of various party affiliations. It seems their findings regarding cuing on Madoff would fit into their general argument here. I wonder why they were not incorporated? Had they been included, it might have answered one question Tim and I had asked: whether there was a partisan skew to the increase in anti-Wall Street sentiment following the ethnic cuing.


Martin Bento 11.30.09 at 5:35 am

Tim, the article mentioning Margalit you link to identifies him as a graduate student. Malhotra is an Assistant Professor.

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