TELL THE PEOPLE! If we want stronger reform the next time, we have to start telling the people: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2010
The critical views of your permanent rulers: Sally Quinns column in yesterdays Post was deeply and sadly revealing. Quinn shrieked like Lady Dowd herself about the Bad Outsider Rogers:
In this passage, Quinn extends Dowds earlier, weird complaints about the deeply offensive Rogers. And she displays an unfortunate fact of life: Within the capital, a permanent, privileged gang of insiders believe they should get the final say about who gets to hold high positions.
Was Rogers a good choice for social secretary? We have no idea. But Quinns complaints are almost as weird as those presented by Dowd last month (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/7/09). Rogers was not of Washington, Quinn complains; she was considered by many too high-powered for the job. Almost surely, month of carping lie behind such remarksthe type of carping which popped to the surface in Lady Dowds weird column, delivered from JFKs shag rug.
Read Quinns full column, and youll learn a sad fact: These people think they get a large say in how the White House operates. They start to get mad when their wishes arent metwhen their firmly-held views about various procedures arent honored by the silly shlub who stooped to getting elected. In Quinns piece, we hear unmistakable echoes of the way these people turned on the Clintons when they somehow werent respectful enough. But then, Clinton and Clinton were not of Washington either!
This is a deeply foolish elite. Theyve done this damage before.
Dont get mad, get stupid: Is the following claim about Sally Quinn true? We have no way of knowing. But Taylor Branch, a sober fellow, decided to include it in his book, The Clinton Tapes. David Corn told the tale in real time:
Did Quinn and her friends really launch such a tale? We simply cant say around here. Wed be curious about Branchs decision to repeat that claim in his book.
PART 2TELL THE PEOPLE: T. R. Reid does many things well in his briefly-ballyhooed book, The Healing of America. Reid is a very good raconteur; he traveled the world to examine health systems, and he does a very good job describing the ways developed nations deliver health care. Over Christmas break, we reread Reids book, which got a grudging ten minutes of fame when it appeared this summer. We recommend The Healing of America as a way to review this important subjecta subject we pretended to discuss in this country this year.
That said, Reid does several things poorly. If progressives want to achieve more thorough health reform the next time around, wed recommend a study of Reids shortcomings. A bit of background:
Over the past fifteen years, progressives, liberals and Democrats did a god-awful job in building a set of winning frameworks and understandings about American health care. In the meantime, the other side kept churning its pappap which gets lodged in voters brains, making it extremely hard to achieve thorough-going reform:
These claims are bogus, but voters believe them. In large part, the reason for that is obvious: In the past fifteen years, liberals have rarely risen off their duffs to counteract these poisonous claims. If we want stronger reform at some point in the future, we have to start developing winning frameworks and understandings.
Sadly, we have to start doing so nowand such a process will take many years. The areas where T. R. Reid is weak help show where the work should be done.
What does Reid do poorly in his book? In our view, he does a very poor job explaining the massive over-spending which characterizes American health care. Despite our best health care in the world, those Euro nations get health outcomes as good as our own (sometimes better). In the process, they spend only one-half to one-third as much as we spend, on a per-person basis!
Those are truly stunning facts; voters need to understand them. But during this years pseudo-discussion, the mainstream press and the liberal world made almost no attempt to examine this startling state of affairs. We think Reid did a poor job with this subject too. In our view, progressives can learn what not to do in examining this part of Reids (worthwhile) work.
Americans spend massively more on health care than other developed nations. For whatever reason, mainstream reporters have developed a maddening array of ways to fail to convey this important fact. So too for Reid, in his book.
First: Like many reporters, Reid displays a maddening tendency to discuss health care spending as a percentage of GDP. Presumably, this statistic is useful in various contexts, but it serves to block understanding in discussions aimed at general readers. On page 9, right at the start of his book, Reid presents a chart which should be very importanta chart comparing health expenditures in ten major countries. But uh-oh! This chart presents health expenditures as a percentage of GDP, and thus the chart becomes obscure and relatively useless. Indeed, Reid maintains this general type of preference all through his book, leading to absurdly opaque comparisons like this:
In that passage, Reid says the British system is unusually cost-effectivethen goes a hundred miles out of his way to make it hard for average readers to understand how cost-effective it is. It cares for roughly one-fifth the population of the United States but spends only one-fifteenth of the U.S. health care bill? Its fine to say that, but how many readers will do the mental math which helps them see what this meansthat the British system only spends roughly one-third as much per person as the U.S. system does? Throughout his book, Reid seems to be working with slightly-outdated OECD datadata from 2005. But these are the OECDs remarkable data from 2007, presented in demystified formexpressed in the simple, per-person terms a reader can quickly ingest:
Those data are simply stunningwhen theyre expressed in a way normal people can understand. But Reid, like many mainstream journalists (like many career liberals), seems unable to comprehend how astounding those data really are. What follows is one of the few places in The Healing of America (perhaps the only place) where Reid drops his high-fallutin percentage of GDP fixation and offers a simple, direct comparison of two nations per-person spending. In this passage, he compares the United States to France, which he describes throughout the book as perhaps the worlds most effective health system. The comparison is simply astounding:
Compulsively, Reid immediately starts explaining how much those two spending figures come to as percentages of GDP. As such, he obscures the stunning difference in simple, per-person health care spending between the U.S. and France. We dont know where those per-person figures come from (Reid doesnt say). But these are the relevant figures from the OECD for the year 2007:
Data like those should stun the conscienceespecially when we understand that France is a very highly-rated system in terms of overall effectiveness. But the mainstream press corps avoided such figures all yearas did the top liberal journals.
Reid also seems to avoid this type of statistic all through his book. (This one direct comparison occurs on page 52.) If we want to inform the public, this is a major error.
In fairness, Reid constantly notes that the U.S. spends more/much more than other nations; he just does a very poor job quantifying this difference. (How much is much more? Absent hard data, opinions will differ.) But we think he does a poor job at another taskat explaining the cause of this vast difference in per-person spending. Why do we spend so much more in this country? Where is all our money going? Reid addresses that question in a chunk of the book which runs from page 34 through page 45. And wed have to say that, despite presumed good intentions, he fumbles this quite badly too.
Where does all our money go? How do we manage to spend so much extra money? In 2007, the French spent $3600 per person; we spent more than twice as much! (And we didnt get better health outcomes!) Our advice: Read that section of Reids book, to see the way a very good writer can bumble and fumble his way through an important discussion. He starts by downplaying two possible explanationsoverpayments to health care providers, and Americans penchant for filing malpractice lawsuits. In the following passage, he seems to cuff aside the notion that were getting looted by our health care providers, including the major drug companies:
Those statements may all be technically accurate, but Reid makes no attempt to quantify the potential savings involved in these areas; he simply says that lower fees and prices would save us something, but not much. But what does not much mean to Reid? As we recently noted, progressive economist Dean Baker recently wrote this, concerning the size of prescription drug mark-ups:
Yikes! If Baker is right, then $800 of our per-person over-spending is explained just by those patent monopolies! That strikes us as a very large chunk of change; by way of contrast, Reid blows this whole area off as not much. We cant imagine why Reid, in a 256-page book, would devote so little space to such important matters.
In the section of the book weve identified, Reid goes on to offer two explanations for where our extra spending does go. Well only say the second part of his explanation is notably vague, and that, in the first part of his explanation, his numbers dont even begin to add updont begin to explain how we manage to spend 103 percent more than the French, to cite just that one comparison.
Might we use an unpleasant word? Compared to citizens of other developed nations, American citizens seem to be getting looted in their health care spending. But so what? The mainstream press corps studiously ducked this topic all yearand wed have to say that Reid did a very poor job exploring this remarkable matter too. But then, our liberal journals have made little attempt to develop this topic in the past fifteen years. Very few American voters understand the sweep of this problemthe depth of this apparent looting. The liberal and progressive worlds have largely agreed not to tell.
Pity the poor American voter! The other side tells them their health care is greatthat European health care has everywhere failed. Our side keeps its big trap shut, refusing to challenge these fantasies. If we want stronger reform next time, we should start by telling the votersStarting right now!about how much they over-spend; about how mediocre their health outcomes actually are; about how well other nations do in these areas, as compared to ours.
And oh yes: As a bottom line, we have to tell the people where all their money is going! Most people dont like being looted; they dont like spending two to three times as much as something seems to be worth. But the liberal and Democratic worlds have been politely quiet about this problem for the past fifteen years. Isnt it time we told the people about this massive, remarkable problem, in terms average people can understand? Or would this force us to dirty our hands, speaking to the Great Unwashed? (Even to tea-baggers!) Second question: Would this make our leaders behave in ways Serious People just wont understand?
Tomorrowpart 3: Welfare queensand that moral argument
Watching your side agree to fail: Last month, the Senate rejected Byron Dorgans proposal to allow re-importation of prescription drugs. Ed Schultz screamed and yelled, to his credit. Elsewhere in the liberal world, this action was met with silence. Elsewhere on MSNBC, the clowning, joking and fooling persisted, driven by tapes of Carrie Prejean and good solid fun about Tiger.
Why cant your side win strong health reform? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/18/09. Basically, the liberal world is quite Potemkinhas been for a long time.