A Parable of Health Care “Reform”

Writing on the health care policy debate, Megan McArdle observes [h/t Instapundit]:

Still, I think you have to establish a sort of minimal cutoff below which it’s better to wait for a better opportunity than do something NOW!!!

By coincidence, this morning some anonymous coward using a remailer sent me the following rant:

Your latest post is vacuous and says nothing. In fact you misconstrue, as do so many, what the health plan on the table in Congress is all about. In fairness, at least be objective in what it says…Innuendo is but an Italian suppository, and the nay saying continues, endlessly. Say something positive for a change. Offer a program, an idea, a proposal rather than simply sniping like a kid in an elementary school playground. [emp added]

Leftists very commonly assert that that non-leftists have to offer a fully fleshed-out alternative to the status quo before they can offer criticisms of the current faddish idea of the Left. When you try to explain to them that the validity of an idea has nothing to do with the validity of any competing ideas, they stare at you blankly. Therefore, to try and explain matters to leftists, I offer the following parable.

Three friends, Bob, Lefty and Righty are standing on the edge of a dam’s overflow channel watching the swirling, churning water flowing out of the dam in the concrete channel 30ft below.

Suddenly, Bob falls into the water and gets caught in a giant eddy that whips him around and around beneath the horrified gaze of his friends. He’s obviously going down.

Lefty and Righty immediately cast about for solutions for rescuing their friend. Jumping in themselves will buy them nothing. It’s too far to make a chain of their clothes. The area around them is devoid of branches they could use to make a reach pole. There’s no one around to help and Bob will have drowned before any emergency personnel they call can reach them.

Suddenly, Lefty makes a discovery.

Lefty: “I found a boat anchor! We can throw it to Bob!”

Righty:  “Don’t be stupid.”

Lefty: “You always do this, shooting down my ideas! At least I have an idea! Do you even have an idea?”

Righty: “No, but I know throwing a drowning man an anchor is a bad idea.”

Lefty: “If you can’t offer your own solution just shut up and let me try my solution.”

Righty: “Based on a long history of experience with boat anchors I don’t need to offer an alternative to observe that the idea is, in complete isolation from all other factors, a bad idea.”

Lefty: “You’re just afraid to try anything new! I’ve thought about this real hard and have come up with a complex set of arguments for how I can throw the boat anchor in such a way that it will function as a flotation device!”

Righty: “Are these arguments produced by the same methodology that convinced you that the people of Cambodia would be better off under the Khmer Rouge? Or the same methodology that led you to believe in 1971 that wage and price controls could control inflation?”

Lefty: “Well, yes but I have another set of arguments explaining why those were innocent mistakes and why none of the mistakes I have made in the past have any bearing on my new boat-anchor idea.”

Righty: “But I remember that several states have previously attempted anchors-as-flotation-devices ideas and they all failed.”

Lefty: “That’s because individual states don’t have enough money and power to buy big enough anchors! The bigger anchors are, the better they float!”

Righty: “You’re nuts.”

Lefty: “Look I have an idea and you don’t. I have been indoctrinated to believe that any new idea is superior to the status quo, and that therefore the burden of proof always lies on the person arguing against the new idea to prove it wrong before we try it.”

Righty: “Look, history is very clear that the vast majority of new ideas don’t work. We go through thousands of new ideas just to find one new one that works better than the status quo. You just believe that new ideas are always correct because you only read the history of the successful ideas while ignoring the greater context of their many contemporaneous failed ideas. You’re especially bad about forgetting the many failed ideas you’ve had in the past.”

Lefty: “What failed ideas? Every time we’ve argued in the past, I’ve always been proven correct. History is nothing but the story of me always being correct and you always being wrong. Now, do you have a plan for rescuing Bob?”

Righty:”No, but…”

Lefty: “Since I have a plan and you don’t, that means that I’m absolutely correct and that you are absolutely wrong.”

Lefty throws the anchor. It sinks like, well, an anchor. Fortunately, while Righty delayed Lefty, Bob broke from the eddy and drifted downstream and has climbed out on the flat bank below the concrete channel. Righty takes Bob home to recuperate.

Ignoring Bob’s plight, Lefty uses a small rock to scratch into the concrete an elaborate flow chart explaining why anchors make good flotation devices.  He eventually builds an academic career explaining his boat anchor theories to naive college students. The boat anchor industry secretly funnels grants to him.

When non-academics tell Lefty that in their experience anchors do not float, Lefty tells them they simply are not smart enough to understand anything counterintuitive, and besides they’re just a bunch of ignorant, anti-intellectual rednecks blinded by religion. Lefty claims that people who don’t believe that anchors float are simply cruel, selfish people who don’t care if others drown. When people point out that Lefty has never performed a water rescue or that he cannot even swim, Lefty claims this lack of practical experience gives him an unbiased platonic insight into the physics of buoyancy.

Most of his work centers around studying Righty’s presumed culture and psychology in an attempt to explain why Righty refuses to believe that anchors float despite the obvious correctness of Lefty’s abstract arguments. All failures of anchors to float are explained as caused by Righty’s selfish interference.

Righty spends most of the rest of his life giving swimming lessons and attempting to stop Lefty from throwing anchors at children in swimming pools.

14 thoughts on “A Parable of Health Care “Reform””

  1. when a group proposes to significantly change a major part of the economy, an essential part, it is not up to the naysayers to offer an alternative, but to the proponents to rationally describe why the change must come. Complaining that the critics have offered no alternative is a weak, weak rebuttal.

  2. Leftist very commonly assert that that non-leftist have to offer a fully fleshed out alternative to the status quo before they can offer criticisms of the current faddish idea of the left.

    Or they assume that if you’re suggesting that an issue be left up to individual choice and free markets, you’re “doing nothing.”

  3. Well, that the current system has faults may be true. These policy-makers refuse to acknowledge the good that has come from it; this indicates they haven’t considered what bad could happen if it were not in place. Imagining a good solution requires more of a sense of history than people in the Obama group seem to have – or have the capacity to imagine. Then there is graft, a core ingredient of this new administration. Authoritarianism, statism, and graft are intertwined – ideologues and crooks are not as opposed as we would like to think.

  4. I got a very good sampling of centrally planned, government run health care when I spent 4 years in and out of Soviet hospitals – an experience I survived by sheer luck and I still shake uncontrollably when visiting a doctor. I have plenty of reason to snipe and even throttle when faced with a bunch of American Socialists who want to force me into this again.

    Incidentally, besides running out of the LOCAL anesthetic they were using during my MAJOR surgery right in the middle of the procedure and NOT having enough of the rationed stuff to give me another dose, I discovered after coming to America that most of the rest of the “treatments” I received are used as gimmmicky spa treatments for the ladies who lunch set. That’s how advanced medicine was in the country that was first in space.

    So, sorry for the rant, but if they don’t like criticism of the worst, most statist and dangerous idea since Social Security, they can shove it up their Sputnik.

  5. good, except that in reality (as compared to the parable) there isn’t even an emergency–a problem, yes, but nothing horrible happens if we take 6 months to get it right(er)

  6. I would add one thing to your parable well actually two, one lefty threw Bob into the water to begin with and two the water was only two inches deep and there never was a crisis to begin with.

    If you do the research there are three reasons why health care in a free market goes up:
    1. Treatments get more complex for more illnesses therefore they get more expensive.
    2. As medical science advances people live longer and get more illnesses that require more expensive care.
    3.Government interference.

    With this in mind how do you bring down costs? Well you develop preventive treatments that keep people healthy longer and find cures but in steps the government and blocks this from happening a good example is Malaria and DDT, Malaria was almost completely eliminated when DDT was still legal then some liberal envirowhacko twit writes a book and Government steps in and now a million people a year in Malaria prone area’s die every year and we spend billions using treatments that don’t work.

    Another good example is access to more plans, right now because of Government interference you can’t buy a plan in say Wisconsin if you live in New York even though people in Wisconsin pay half what New Yorkers do for the same exact plan even with the same company in a lot of cases! And a lot of states make you buy a full coverage plan instead of a plan for say just emergency room urgent care which would be much cheaper. One other upward pressure on prices is law suites tort reform would fix a lot of the upward price pressure but that is ok Obamacare will fix this problem because you see when all healthcare workers become Government employees the law suites will go away and you can bet Obamacare will begin rationing eventually it is the only way they will be able to control costs.

    To quote Ronald Reagan “Government is not the solution to the problem IT IS THE PROBLEM!”

  7. I’m wondering if genetic brain enhancement – a very likely prospect for the near future – will finally see leftism thrown to the trash bin?

  8. Brett_McS,

    I’m wondering if genetic brain enhancement – a very likely prospect for the near future – will finally see leftism thrown to the trash bin?

    I doubt it. Leftism, especially the intellectual variety, is driven by emotional need. Craving for status, for power, envy etc drive leftists to create rationalizations for why they should be in charge. Enhancing intellect will simply give more power to these rationalizations.

    Engineering emotions will be tricky because we use our emotions to decide. People with brain injuries that reduce their emotions also reduce their ability to make decisions even if their intellects are otherwise unaffected.

  9. Price controls always cause prices to rise. When price controls are removed prices always fall.

    Medicare is a system for imposing price controls. If Medicare is eliminated, then price controls will be removed and health care prices will fall. Because eliminating Medicare is impossible health care prices are doomed to continue rising until the health care industry in bankrupt. Price controls always produce bankruptcy.

    Anyone can name a company or even an industry where price controls have caused market leaders to go bankrupt. No one can name an industry helped by price controls.

  10. Methinks, about 30 years ago, I treated a woman of about 40 who developed a small bowel obstruction while on a Soviet cruise ship. Her abdomen became hugely distended, as will happen with an untreated bowel obstruction. The treatment provided by the doctor on the cruise ship was to stick large needles into her abdomen to drain off gas and fluid from her distended bowel. She arrived in San Clemente, CA with raging peritonitis but survived after three or four operations. I was dumfounded at the story but maybe I shouldn’t have been.

  11. Price controls always cause prices to rise? How do you figure that?

    Price controls cause shortages (if the price is too low) or a surplus of supply / wasted resources (if they’re too high).

    How would they cause prices to rise, though? Isn’t the point of price controls that they keep prices the same?

  12. Dove,

    Price controls always cause prices to rise? How do you figure that?

    Counterintuitively they do long-term. The “energy crisis” of the 70’s is the classic example. Price controls removed profit from oil production so people stopped exploring and pumping. It took a while for the effect to show up but after a couple of years, supplies began to fall even through the price was fixed. The first gas shortages in early ’73 that gave the Arabs the idea for the embargo, was not accompanied by high prices. Then prices rose while the supply remained constrained by internally and externally. When Reagan did away with the windfall profits tax, prices spiked for two years because of pent up demand and then prices crashed as supplies came on line.

    Price controls send a signal through the market which says that consumers do not want the controlled product. Produces make less of the product which causes shortages. When the price controls fail prices spike until the system readjust.

  13. Price controls always cause prices to rise? How do you figure that?

    A shortage is an expression of rising prices, by the way.

    The first effect of increased demand is an increase in price. This creates a rent and signals the producer to produce more product to capture the additional return. The increased production causes prices to fall back again. If supply is constrained, then the rising price is expressed in shortages.

    This is how inflation was expressed in the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. People were paid high nominal salaries, but supply of goods was constrained and prices were controlled. Everything disappeared from the shelves.

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