It wasn’t really a detente, but I’ve taken the past week off from serious thinking because it’s been hot. It’s still hot, but I’m bored, and feeling slightly guilty about the lateness of my response to Discursor. You can read his thoughts here. You can probably find the whole damn war from that link. So away we go. Look sharp.
We were, class, discussing Camille Paglia’s utterly ridiculous defense of Sarah Palin, and trying to get a grapple on why someone as clearly intelligent as Paglia (even if I disagree with much of what she says, I grudgingly acknowledge–here if not elsewhere–that she’s no dummy) would come to the defense–nay, would go so far as to extol someone so clearly insane and manic and ignorant as Sarah Palin. I suggested in passing that Paglia was suffering from cognitive dissonance, to which Discursor replied,
An alternative hypothesis is that [Paglia’s] self-consciously using Palin instrumentally (how Kant would weep!) to advance her line because she provides a unique opportunity; she provokes polite liberal politically correct society to vindictiveness like no other. This would account for why all of her praise of Palin seems to be for what she’s not. She’s just not interested in defending what Palin is. Interestingly, this hypothesis would suggest that Paglia’s behaviour towards Palin is, far from genuinely reverential, actually deeply disrespectful. It would suggest that to Paglia she’s a useful idiot.
I think that sounds like the closest analysis to correct so far. But I think that the charge of intellectual dishonesty can stand within that framework. That is, if Paglia’s point is to wad up the panties get the goats of “polite liberal politically correct society,” she needn’t do so by defending Palin. She can just say ridiculous bombastic shit. If, as Discursor suggests, Paglia considers Palin to be a “useful idiot,” she hasn’t (to my knowledge) admitted as much. That’s dishonest.
Now. I suppose one could argue that if the above analysis is correct, Paglia’s just pulling a fast one on her less careful readers, i.e. seemingly defending Palin, while the subtext suggests an abiding disrespect. But I’m not sure if the analysis is correct. It just sounds to me like the most plausible way to think about anyone defending Palin. And since, as I said in my last post, I don’t want to think about Palin anymore, I’m going to leave this an open question.
In other words, the blog war has moved into more interesting territory. So fuck that old shit. If my response is unsatisfying, I’ll have to leave you wanting. For now anyway.
So, to refresh your memories, somehow Krugman got dragged into the whole thing. We were talking about arguments: specifcally, how public intellectuals frame complex ones, and what the best way to unpack complexity for the layreader might be. I said that I thought Discursor had cherry-picked a particular Krugman quote to show that even some of the most solid public intellectuals frequently rely upon assertion in the place of argument. With which Discursor took issue:
I agree with you that Krugman, on his own terms, makes an argument for why universal health care should be affordable (something that, by the by, I also believe). But, I have a couple of issues with his rhetoric that I think stand : First, what I was taking issue with was the adverb. Eminence is pretty meaningless as he’s using it, but I take him to be wanting to express that it can be “really” affordable.
Agreed. Wrong adjective. But he continues…
Second, he claims that all “serious health economists” know this. I don’t think that’s true… at least not true once you venture out from Krugman’s terms to what conservative health economists understand a worthwhile universal health care system to be (see Megan McArdle, Posner, and Mankiw for some good aggregatations of fiscally conservative thought on health care reform). [UPDATE: These thinkers don’t look at those who are uninsured and say “it would be cheap to bring them onto the boat.” They look at Medicare/aid and see one of the least efficient resource allocating bureaucracies in the world (without offering universal care, as is mentioned frequently by Krugman, those two programs cost the American people approximately twice as much per-capita as the universal systems of other developed countries.] Posner lays out a conservative framework for understanding health reform as follows….
And then there’s a long quotation that I’m not going to quote here. Just go to the top of the post and click on the link to read Discursor’s whole argument, if you feel up to it.
Actually, fuck it. Let’s quote the Posner quote, as quoted by Discursor:
There are two ways to reduce the aggregate cost of health care, if this is considered a worthy objective, as I am inclined to doubt [he supports this doubt with a protracted argument earlier in the post]. One would be to ration demand. If the supply curve for health care is upward sloping, as undoubtedly it is, then capping demand would result in lower prices by forcing the market down the supply curve. But rationing demand would be fiercely resisted by patients, for obvious reasons. The second way to reduce aggregate health costs would be to force down the price of treatment by exercise of the government’s potential monopsony power. Suppose all doctors were employed by the government. Then their wages would be low because if you wanted to be a doctor, as many people do, you would not have any alternative to accepting the government’s wage. Of course the quality of care would decline. Or suppose (and this the tendency toward which some of the current proposals are tending) that the government bought all the drugs that are produced, having forbidden the drug companies to sell to any other purchaser. Then the price of drugs would be much lower than it is today, but so would be the quality, since the incentives for innovation would be diminished by the lower price.
As a non-economist, I’m not going to deal with Point 1, as people like Ezra Klein and Krugman and Brad DeLong are much more qualified to do so. But I seriously question Posner’s two-pronged second point. First, Atul Gawande reminded us a month or so ago that compensation for doctors is in no way correlated with health outcomes. In fact, the opposite may be true in some cases, and those cases are becoming much more normal in the fucked-up healthcare situation we’ve got in this country now. (Please, please, please, I beg of you, read the article). For what it’s worth, Massachusetts is in the process of trying to address this issue under its universal coverage plan, so I think it’ll be interesting to see whether the new doctor-pay-scheme is a success or a failure there. Suffice it to say, I don’t buy into the scare mongering.
Second, as far as drug development goes, I was reading somewhere (and if anybody could direct me to the source where I was reading this, I’d be eternally grateful, as otherwise this is going to be a bit thin, since my econ knowledge ain’t up to snuff) that drug companies are systemically structured to not find cures/treatments/.com for things like swine flu and the like, because the possibility exists that they’ll invest a bunch of resources, a pandemic will cease to materialize, and they’ll be in the hole for the R&D that isn’t done on the government’s dime. So instead they focus their attention on making retirees’ dicks hard and developing drugs for restless leg syndrome and shit. Again, if somebody could help me by doing the job of my memory for me, that’d be awesome. (It might’ve been Digby who made the original argument, if you feel up to reading through the archives at Hullabaloo).
Anyway. All of this is a long way of addressing this, from Discursor:
So fine, universal health care can be “eminently” affordable. But that’s not what the debate is about and Krugman knows it. The debate is whether quality universal health care can be affordable, which, in a system as huge as would be required for a country as huge as America, one could plausibly doubt. My point though is, that Krugman doesn’t address the serious counter claims. He just says “everybody thinks this”….
I think that Krugman doesn’t address serious counter claims because he doesn’t think they’re worth taking seriously. I frankly don’t, either. I don’t know what “affordability” constitutes in the context of the United States’ budget; but, again, to go back to my worries about Defense Dep’t spending from the last post: simple math tells me that we could slash the annual DoD budget by about a quarter for the next five years, still outspend the rest of the world on armaments and military outlays by miles (and miles and miles and miles), and pay for the trillion dollar CBO estimate of universal healthcare’s costs for the next ten years without taxing anybody anymore than we already do.
Seems affordable. Once we get our priorities straight, of course.
Alternatively, we could also tax the rich a little bit more.
My two cents.