THE HAITI OF THE DEVELOPED WORLD! Haiti suffers under vast burdens. Among the worlds developed nations, arent we a bit like that? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010
Last call: Our first-ever fund-raising drive ends today, with this last call. Youre right! Given the disaster unfolding in Haiti, this turned into a slightly awkward week for our first-ever drive.
That said: We hope youll sample Chapter 1 over at our new site. Chapter 2 will soon follow.
We suspect that our focus over here at this site will be changing a bit this year. Conditions have changed since we started this site, almost twelve years ago.
At that time, the mainstream press corps was misbehaving badlywas running wildin ways it isnt quite doing today. Then too, a liberal/progressive world has sprung up to challenge its ongoing failures, along with those of the conservative press. In 1998, there was little noise coming from left of center in our political/journalistic fights. Today, we have a vibrant, noisy liberal/progressive worldalthough our famous liberal journals still sometimes seem a bit tame.
Given the rise of a liberal world, how can we craft winning plays?
Will Brown beat Coakley in the Bay State? We have no idea. But the fact that the question is being asked helps us see how easily progressive impulses can be swatted aside. Yes, were in a profound economic mess; that has helped create a difficult political environment.
But in our view, the health care discussion of the past year has often displayed the weaknesses of the liberal/progressive world, as well as the weaknesses of the mainstream press. How can we craft a winning long-term strategy? Branching out from our original focus, well likely discuss that this year.
In 1998, the MSM was the straw that was stirring the drink. The playing-field is more crowded now. Over at the other site, well be discussing the history of the Clinton/Gore era. Over here, our discussion will probably widen out from the mainstream press.
If you think those discussions might be worthwhile, well ask you to consider a contribution. Analysts want a new pair of shoes! After twelve years in their old Buster Browns, can we really blame them?
Last call on Game Change: We had planned to do another day on the silly chatter which dominated cable this week, before disaster struck in Haiti. Instead, well recommend that you read Joan Walsh, who talks about gossip in much the way we spoke about novels this week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/14/10).
In the last few decades, this kind of gossipy novelization has often taken the place of news, in ways which have been destructive. Way back in March 2000, E. R. Shipp, then the Washington Posts ombudsman, used slightly different language to describe similar work in the Post: She said it was like the Posts reporters were typecasting a drama as they picked-and-chose the facts they would print about the four major White House contenders (Bush, Gore, Bradley, McCain). In our view, liberals need to find the best language with which to warn the public about this childish form of pseudo-journalism. And we need to avoid a temptationthe temptation to adopt these same techniques as we critique the other sides leaders.
In the long term, we dont think thats a winning play. But for today, well suggest that you read Joan Walsh. This topic will come up again.
THE HAITI OF THE DEVELOPED WORLD [permalink]: What happened to health care reform in the past year? In this mornings Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer offers an explanation which is accurate in some major ways, but is also full of ironies. In this passage, Krauthammer starts to explain why President Obamas approval ratings have fallen:
Gravity took hold, Krauthammer saysfailing to note that gravity was helped by claims about death panels and the like. But we were struck by Krauthammers scolding claim in this passagethe claim that Obamas proposed reform turns the health insurance companies into utilities. That strikes us as a remarkable stretch, but the irony comes when we consider a basic fact: In several other developed nations with health care systems more successful than ours, insurance companies actually are run like public utilities! These systems do work through insurance companiesbut the companies are non-profit, and theyre heavily regulated. Perhaps as a result, these countries spend vastly less than we spend on health care, per person. But despite the vastly lower level of spending, everyone is insured in these countriesand these countries achieve health outcomes which are roughly the same as ours.
Some countries do treat insurance companies as public utilities! Judged by twin measures of outcome and cost, their systems are vastly better than ours. But do American voters know these things? How many Post readers will see the irony in Krauthammers claim, in which he seems to assume that its an obvious bad thing to treat insurers this way?
Wed guess that few readers will see that irony. You see, our country suffers along with a badly broken political infrastructure. Our big news orgs made little effort this year to describe the way other countries do health careto describe their stunning low levels of spending; to describe their strong health outcomes; to explain where our vast spending goes. When the New York Times described the Swiss health system (right on page one), it stressed the fact that the Swiss system has no public option. But the Times failed to note another key fact: The Swiss heavily regulate their insurance companiesrun them like public utilities. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/09.)
This was one of the Times only attempts to describe the foreign experienceand the report might as well have been written by the insurance industry itself. Partial result? Three months later, Krauthammer is free to roll his eyes at the very idea of treating insurance companies like a public utility. Good lord! Who would ever do that, the gentleman seems to say.
Obamacare turns the health insurance companies into utilities? Well actually, nonot really. But Krauthammer feels free to assume that this would be a very bad thing. Hes free to argue that way because of our broken political infrastructure.
In the wake of the Haitian disaster, many observers have lamented the millstones around Haitis neckits poverty, its limited physical infrastructure, its broken political culture. Suffering Haiti has long been the western hemispheres political/economic basket-case, many observers have said.
But in many ways, were the Haiti of the developed world when it comes to political culture. Our political culture is virtually defined by a long string of potent deceptions. (National health care has failed everywhere its been tried!) The Papa Docs of American culture have pimped these doctrines for the past fifty years. They leave us the political basket-case of the developed world, as this past years health care discussion has once again clearly shown.
(Go ahead. Go back and review that pitiful, isolated attempt by the Times to describe the foreign experience, through the Swiss example.)
When it comes to political culture, we are the developed worlds version of struggling Haiti. Consider Paul Krugmans column todaya piece about the ongoing need for vibrant bank regulation.
In this passage, Krugman explains how our recent financial disaster occurred. This week, Haiti suffers through massive disaster. Krugman uses the same word here, describing a wealthier nation:
We brought on our recent financial disaster when we dismantled effective regulation, Krugman explains. That said, well disagree with one claim from this passage. Everyone understands this, Krugman sayseveryone, it seems, except the financiers themselves.
Wed tend to disagree with that statement. Wed guess that many voters dont quite understand this. Here again, wed blame the problem on our broken political infrastructure, which is enabled by us.
How many voters could offer a coherent account of the run-up to our recent financial disaster? Very few, we would guess; wed count ourselves among them. But here, as elsewhere, public instincts are strongly shaped by the potent string of talking-points churned from the right in the past fifty years. Many such talking-points stress the way the free market works its inviolable wonders. (And of course: Big government never did anything right!) But how good a job has our side done in the past fifty years, explaining the obvious need for sensible, sane regulation?
Has government never done anything right? Does regulation defeat the free market? The red lights for which you stopped today represent regulation by big government; would anyone really want to unplug them? That said, has our side ever developed the frameworks which might help the average citizen grasp the obvious need for sane regulation? Have we ever developed winning frameworksfamiliar narratives which defeat the pathologies conjured by the other side?
The other side has developed high-quality dramas concerning big government regulation. In these dramas, such regulation is done by federal bureaucrats who intrude upon us, the people. In Krauthammers familiar language, they regulate in crushing detail, working by government fiat.
The dramas implied by this language are of course quite familiar. What dramas has our side ever produceddramas designed to tilt the voter in a more sensible direction?
In our view, winning dramas would be built around the notion of flawed human nature. As a general tendency, Americans want to let the market proceedbut Americans also know about the failures of human nature. Absent sensible regulation, we the people may be inclined to overdo our quest for success. In our view, everyone really does know about this part of our nature. Everyone knows that our human nature calls for some brakes here and there.
In our history, big government once regulated children out of factory sweatshops. Except you wouldnt call that big government. Thats something youd want to occur.
We failed to regulate in the 1990s, as Krugman winningly says. Millions of lives have been harmed in the process. But has our side ever sought to tell that story in ways the average voter will grasp? The other side keeps churning its tropes, about government fiats, distant bureaucrats, free markets. What are the stories which our side has told? When will we think them up?
In political terms, were the Haiti of the developed world, a nation forced to fumble ahead despite a deeply unfortunate infrastructure. Our politics is built on familiar, bogus claims, the kinds of deception which lead to disaster. The health care discussion of the past year shows us as the world-class joke we actually are. Obama wants to treat insurance companies like public utilities! So Krauthammer has claimed today. Hes confident that our political culture is so broken that his readers wont rise to say this:
But isnt that what the Germans have done? And dont they spend less than half what we spend? And dont they get better health outcomes?
T. R. Reid discusses the German health system in The Healing of America (chapter 5). But have you seen the German health system discussed, even once, in the Washington Post or the New York Times? Our political culture runs on dumb, a point on which Krauthammers column depends.
Partly, thats due to the Post and the Times. Partly, its due to us.
Reid does Dusseldorf: Reid devotes chapter 5 of his brushed-aside book to the German health system. An excerpt:
Please note: Insurance must pay the bill and the prices for insurance are fixed because the German system treats these companies as if they were public utilities. By the way, heres the relevant per-person spending from 2007:
Astonishingly, the German health system was not discussed in the Post or the Times last year. Then again, did you see it discussed in our liberal journals?
Can you see why its easy for Charles to roll his eyes at the very idea of treating insurance companies like a bunch of public utilities?
Well close with a point we dont understand. Heres an excerpt from Ezra Kleins blog at the Washington Post:
We can afford $2.3 trillion, Ezra says. He goes on to say that we need to adjust the rate of growth in that spending. When it comes to that $2.3 trillion baseline? Pshaw! Nothing to look at! Move on!
Might we note an obvious fact? That $2.3 trillion represents a more-than-100 percent mark-up over the German rate of spendinga rate of spending which produces the health care system Reid describes in that passage.
We can afford that rate of spending? Why would progressives (or anyone) reason like that? Why do we tolerate same?