Sunday, September 02, 2007

He's on point

Jay Bookman on the religion of the free market:

Ideologically speaking, the conservatives' choice is already made. They have to believe that private enterprise is always, in every regard, preferable to government, even when, in practical terms, that approach makes no sense.


Blogger Nicki said...

woo hoo, Bookman! FREEBIRD!

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Jay Bookman, Adam Smith. Bookman, Smith. Hmmm...Bookman, Smith, Milton Friedman.



I'm going with Smith and Friedman.


1:21 PM  
Blogger Xon said...

Ugh, Bookman offers absolutely no reason to prefer his governmental alternative, though. In fact, even if his criticisms of the free-market approach are dead-on, a government-conrol approach fails by the same standard.

"It all makes such perfect, rational sense, and that's exactly the problem."

Indeed! Making perfect rational sense is a 'problem.' Say that again, louder and into the microphone so everyone can hear. (Yes, that's too snarky a response on my part. I get his point that theory does not always line up with fact, but he should have chosen a better way to make that point.)

"The conservative approach to medical care envisions that human beings — with all their emotions, fears, imperfect information and competing demands on their time and attention — can somehow act as supremely rational consumers of a very complicated, high-stakes product. And it just ain't so."

1. I don't think this is the free-market approach at all, at least not if we actually read the writings of free-market economists and political theorists. I've never heard a free-market advocate say, for instance, that beings can act as 'supremely rational consumers.' That is not what is required for the free-market argument to go through. What is required is just that human beings prioritizing their own goals to choose among the almost limitless options that are available to them is a more efficient way to distribute economic resources to those human beings than having a centralized planner dictate how they should be distributed. Notice that I said "more efficient," not "totally/perfectly/supremely efficient." The free market argument is a comparison game--millions of people making self-interested choices as best they can (not perfectly!) every day is better when compared to central bureaucrats making decisions for those people. It is not a "private enterprise cures all evils and ushers in a paradise" sort of argument. And it requires nobody to be "perfectly rational."

2. But about that "supremely rational" point. Since we can't expect "human beings" to be supremely rational consumers about the things that matter most to them, then Bookman needs to explain why we can expect government bureaucrats to be "supremely rational" decision-makers about those same things. And acting on behalf of those to whom these decisions really matter most, to boot. Bookman saws off the whole branch he is sitting on, not just the free-market portion.

"We're dealing with real people and real life, not with theories and ideology. Ideology may say that smokers will quit if they know they would have to pay the cost of cancer treatment."

Again, I know of no ideology that actually says this. The free-market ideology with which I am familiar says that, all else being equal, raising the personal costs of something will cause demand for that something to go down. But demand is an across-the-board generalization, not a person-by-person law. So raising the personal costs of smoking does not mean that every single smoker will quit smoking, or anything so silly as that. But some smokers will quite smoking, absolutely! Those for whom smoking was only 'marginally' valuable before the personal costs were brought into the equation will be swayed by the addition of those personal costs. But certainly there will be a lot of other smokers who still, despite the health risks involved, will choose to keep smoking because, to them, the pleasure of smoking is worth risk to their future health. (Just like to many people, the pleasure brought about by money in the present is worth the loss of future money through interest) And who, exactly, is to say that these people are "wrong", if this is there perspective on the matter? Is Bookamn advocating forcing smokers to quit smoking? I'm sure he's not. So...

3. There is something crucially important here that Bookman might be hiding up his sleeve. He criticizes "conservatives" for wanting to 'force' individuals to bear the costs of their own decisions. From this, then, we must be allowed to infer that Bookman wants to allow people not to bear the costs of their decisions, right? So, Bookman is okay with, for instance, letting people smoke all their lives and then forcing taxpayers to pay for their medical bills when they come down with COPD? Gee, that actually DOES sound like Bookman's position!

"Real-life experience says that if fear of death doesn't drive that change, nothing else will."

Au contraire. It is now Bookman who is letting "theory" guide what he is saying to the detriment of "real-life." (What 'real-life experience' shows us that fear of death is the ultimate motivator, pray tell?) Plenty of people feel very reckless about death, but are motivated by all sorts of other things. (Money, relationships, thrills, leisure time, notoriety, etc.)

The problem here is that Bookman is keen to point out that we cannot trust individual people to make rational decisions about their own lives b/c they are so guided by emotion, ignorance, etc. But then Bookman unintentionally demonstrates the anti-government point that often times people who sit down and try to unemotionally and rationally come up with "the way things should work", they royally screw the pooch, too. If Bookman's own "observations" about life are to be an indicator of what we will get when the government starts running our health care needs for us, then I'm not impressed. The "planners" screw up in the decisions they make, too.

And speaking of screwing up, let me jump up on this misguided 'fear of death' argument a little bit more. Pretend everything else I just said about it isn't true, and I just accept Bookman's point here: fear of death is the ultimate motivator, and if a person is not motivated by that to act a certain way then nothing else will motivate them to act a certain way, either. If this is true, then how on earth is Bookman's government-controlled medicine supposed to help? Bookman has just argued himself into the conclusion that the smoker is not going to live any differently no matter what health plan Bookman's favored politicians put in place. So...we might ask "What is the point?" It would seem, again, that the only point is to simply "take care" of people no matter what choices they make. To refuse to hold people accountable for their choices at all. Smoke away; you can't help it b/c for some reason you are not motivated by fear of death. So go ahead and do it, and when you actually come down with something nasty as a result, we will take care of your medical bills. This is the stuff of a just, equitable, and free society.

"And in real life, it's hard to believe that a mother working full time would be a tougher and more informed negotiator over the cost of her child's surgery than would an insurance company or government bureaucracy armed with experts and data. But that's just what Johnson and others claim to believe."

Experts! Data! With science on our side, we can conquer all! How quaint and 1894 of Bookman. I'm from the government, ma'am, and I have facts and figures on my side that say you don't really need that surgery. And, therefore, you're not going to get it. This is at the bottom of all socialized medicine. It is unavoidable, no matter what your intentions. Either Bookman does not even realize the import of what he is saying, or he doesnt' care.

"In my own case, I had no problem rejecting my mechanic's recommendation of a new engine gasket, and I'm ready to deal with a blown engine if I'm wrong.

But I would be far less cavalier rejecting a doctor's recommendation that I needed a pacemaker, because the cost of being wrong would be death.

So, instead you are going to simply trust the recommendation of a bureaucrat? If you are so loathe to go against your doctor's advice, then just listen to your doctor. It is a free country, and you are free to do so. Why do we need a bureaucrat to tell you that yes, you may go ahead and listen to your doctor? (In fact, you have to?)

1:32 PM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Reading. Way. Too. Much. Into. This.

Too. Much. Free. Time.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Xon said...

That. makes. me. laugh.

I wasn't even able to watch Georgia play football on tv this weekend. That's how much "free time" I have. But anyway...

In fact, my lack of "free time" is why my blog has fallen by the wayside, and thus why I posted my response to Bookman here on your blog. That was simply the best I could do under my actual time constraints. But I made more time for Bookman's nonsense than I should have because he deserved it.

12:20 AM  

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