Magical Thinking Versus Reality — George Savage

 

Americans exited the 20th century the triumphant torchbearers of classical liberalism—communism on the ash heap, the era of big government officially over–yet by the teens of the third millennium we find ourselves rejecting logic and experience to embrace the politics of magical thinking. How did this happen?

First, consider some examples of the phenomenon. This headline from yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, for example: “Electric cars can go only half as far in freezing weather, AAA finds.” After untold billions showered on Obama donors far-and-wide and a $7,500 per car direct federal tax subsidy for the Master of the Universe with a yen for a new Tesla, we now find a flaw: batteries don’t do well in the cold. Who knew? Apparently, our federal masterminds never consulted any automobile mechanics or high-school chemistry students before legislating alternative-energy nirvana.

I hope AAA at least got a federal subsidy for publishing this earthshaking slice of common sense.

Obamacare_limits_cancer_care

Then we have this AP headline: “Obamacare limits cancer care: Many of the best hospitals are off limits.” Could this mean that contraceptives aren’t actually free after all? Only someone blissfully ignorant of the history of state-directed health care systems could be surprised to discover politicians siphoning healthcare dollars from the seriously ill in order to dispense largesse on more numerous healthy voters.

But we judge “healthcare for all” aficionados by their stated intentions and not by results.

And despite the most brutal North American winter in decades, following the “sixth-least-active Atlantic hurricane season since 1950,” ladled atop a 17-years-and-counting “pause” in global warming, we are told by noted climate physicist and Secretary of State John Kerry that “climate change,” whatever the term may mean this week, is “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” I don’t know about you, but I am more worried about Peter Robinson’s dog. You should see the damage Crusoe can inflict on a shoe.

How do magical thinkers deal with contrary climate data when not manipulating it (c.f., ClimateGate)? Inverting normal human reasoning is one way to get there. This Washington Post headline gives you a flavor for the trick: “A pause in global warming does not disprove a human role in climate change.” Well, alrighty then. Leftist politicians tell us that Armageddon is a scientific certainty unless we abandon post-enlightenment notions of individual sovereignty, personal liberty, and limited government to enthusiastically embrace the statist full monty, but the burden of proof is on those who resist fundamental transformation rather than those who propose it.

These folks act as if “scientific socialism” was something new.

Mind-bending sovereign debt—$17 trillion on the books with $100 trillion more in unfunded liabilities—is the new normal. As long as we believe that this is all investment, it seems okay. What could go possibly go wrong?

The problem is that we are living in a world where the average voter is more familiar with Harry Potter than Harry Truman. Mr. Potter, you will recall, can work magic if he recites his spell with the proper emphasis. In a similar vein, Neo, hero of The Matrix, triumphs over reality by expunging all doubt to embrace his messianic nature. The genre goes back further, but used to influence just a few lonely sci-fi nerds like me, not define American society generally.  In the Original Star Trek episode Spectre of the Gun, Spock employs his Vulcan mind meld to brainwash Kirk and the rest of the landing party into total, absolute, unquestioning belief that an upcoming gunfight is a dream—a life-saving bit of mind-control.

I bet Spock could turn out some really convincing Obamacare Navigators!

This backdrop helps us understand why a conservative questioning a destructive fantasy—a Ted Cruz taking on Obamacare, for example—takes infinitely more flak than the liberals responsible for the predicament or the Republicans who go along to get along. Opposition destroys pure and total belief and eliminates the possibility of society moving as one mass and with one voice. Therefore, the very existence of opposition is a vital threat to statist designs. Conservatives have even been blamed for Obamacare failing because—wait for it—they oppose the law.

Resistance is futile, but only if there is universal acknowledgement of defeat before the battle is even joined.

Reality can be denied for only so long and “facts,” as John Adams pointed out, “are stubborn things.” My question: What will it take to convince our fellow citizens to embrace a reality-based politics once again?

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 48 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Funeral Guy Inactive
    Funeral Guy
    @FuneralGuy

    I’m as dispirited as Jay Nordlinger when it comes to the electorate.  I know it would be impossible politically, but some kind of test that establishes at least some kind of low bar in order to vote shouldn’t be beyond the pale.  An electorate that doesn’t know the current vice-president, how many branches of government there are, or who is the current Chief Justice are just too darn stupid to be deciding the direction of the country.  Also, everybody needs to pay something in taxes.  With some people getting a free tax ride, why should they care if you, their fellow citizen, is getting soaked by the tax system.  Finally, we need to stop reminding the dummies to vote.  No more Rock The Vote or taxpayer funded PSA’s on how important it is to vote.  Let the Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fans stay home on Election Day.  No need to encourage the terminally stupid to vote for things they don’t understand anyway.

    • #31
  2. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    But does Obamacare limit cancer care more than cancer care was limited before?
    Who lives by magical thinking dies by magical thinking, I’m thinking.
    From the article:
    Before President Barack Obama’s health care law, a cancer diagnosis could make you uninsurable. Now, insurers can’t turn away people with health problems or charge them more. Lifetime dollar limits on policies, once a financial trap-door for cancer patients, are also banned.    
    The new obstacles are more subtle.    
    To keep premiums low, insurers have designed narrow networks of hospitals and doctors. The government-subsidized private plans on the exchanges typically offer less choice than Medicare or employer plans.
    ////
    But presumably more choice than was available to the previously uninsurable.  Is that a reality based assessment or have I misunderstood?

    • #32
  3. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Rudyard Kipling said it best.

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

    • #33
  4. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    Zafar,

    Yes, it does limit it more.  In a host of different ways.  First, most people in the exchange plans will be locked out of cutting edge care, or even the best care available in their area due to narrow networks.   We don’t have data on if these networks participate in clinical trials at the same rate as other community sites, but there are simply options that will not be available to these patients in these networks.

    In terms of obtaining insurance after a diagnosis, it’s quite difficult if you’re not employer-insured.  However, there are foundations, and used to be some state programs (e.g., high risk pools) that provided options.  Again, your options might be limited, or you might be at your local safety net hospital, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that care isn’t available.

    Lastly, as we move toward “bundling” (another word for capitated care) the financial incentive will be for the cheapest cancer care…which patients should have the right to choose, not their health systems or policy makers

    • #34
  5. George Savage Contributor
    George Savage
    @GeorgeSavage

    Freesmith:

    George

    Do you want to put an end to magical thinking with one single act? Mandate that the Federal Reserve can no longer “buy” US Government securities and non-AAA rated debt instruments.

    The illusion of zero interest rates will disappear overnight, and with it the phony economy which monetizing US debt sustains.

    But I bet you don’t want that little piece of reality one bit. Better the magical thinking of a non-recovery recovery and a 16,000 DJIA – right?

    Freesmith, I’m afraid you lose your wager (do I win anything?).  I agree with you and would rather face reality with $17 trillion in sovereign debt than $20 trillion, or $30 trillion or more.  Better to reverse course now before we become a too-big-to-rescue version of Greece.

    • #35
  6. user_663196 Inactive
    user_663196
    @DCMcAllister

    Progressivism and its belief that the experts, the “elites,” manage society best has corrupted America. Just trust them–they know best, even if what they say makes no sense. Progressives believe the individual is not equipped to better himself or society. He must subordinate to the collective, which means he must submit to the “experts.” This has been taught in one form or another to Americans since even before the New Deal. While Americans continue to be motivated by self-interest and individualism (despite the progressive influence), the tricky part of FDR-style progressivism is that it appeals to that very self-interest but then turns it around and says “but the experts know best, and you can trust them.” We can only change when we start realizing who we’re fighting, unite, and begin re-educating people–this will takes years. The problem is we concede too much to left out of fear, and so their foundational assumptions about human beings and society are never really challenged.

    • #36
  7. user_663196 Inactive
    user_663196
    @DCMcAllister

    Funeral Guy: I’m as dispirited as Jay Nordlinger when it comes to the electorate. I know it would be impossible politically, but some kind of test that establishes at least some kind of low bar in order to vote shouldn’t be beyond the pale. An electorate that doesn’t know the current vice-president, how many branches of government there are, or who is the current Chief Justice are just too darn stupid to be deciding the direction of the country. Also, everybody needs to pay something in taxes. With some people getting a free tax ride, why should they care if you, their fellow citizen, is getting soaked by the tax system. Finally, we need to stop reminding the dummies to vote. No more Rock The Vote or taxpayer funded PSA’s on how important it is to vote. Let the Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fans stay home on Election Day. No need to encourage the terminally stupid to vote for things they don’t understand anyway.

    You know, they think you’re a racist if you support voter ID laws. Imagine how they’d respond to your suggestions, Funeral Guy. They’d probably run you out of town. I do have to say, as far as the Honey Boo Boo crowd goes–you’re probably safer with them voting than some Ivy League grads. Just sayin.

    • #37
  8. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    D.C. McAllister:
    You know, they think you’re a racist if you support voter ID laws. Imagine how they’d respond to your suggestions, Funeral Guy. They’d probably run you out of town. I do have to say, as far as the Honey Boo Boo crowd goes–you’re probably safer with them voting than some Ivy League grads. Just sayin.

    ___________________________

    Yeah, that’s the crowd whose voting rights we want to restrict!!!  :-)
    Seriously, the right answer to the problem of low information voters isn’t an intellect test; it’s different leadership.

    Why do we have bipartisan support for destroying the country’s finances?  That’s the question, not why morons are allowed to vote.  It’s all those high-IQ types that are killing us softly, not the idiots obsessed with the Kardashians . . . they can’t spell Federal Reserve and wouldn’t know what you meant if you said “monetary policy.”  They are not the problem . . . it’s all those folks who know perfectly well what they are doing and could not care less.  THEY are the ones in power.

    Why is it they are incentivized to destroy the country from within?

    The problem is structural and therefore requires a structural solution.  We have to curtail the political processes that incentivize national suicide.

    That means using the Constitution’s Article V remedy . . . and very soon before it’s a $34 Trillion debt, not ‘merely’ $17T.

    • #38
  9. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    PsychLynne:
    Zafar,
    Yes, it does limit it more. In a host of different ways. First, most people in the exchange plans will be locked out of cutting edge care, or even the best care available in their area due to narrow networks. We don’t have data on if these networks participate in clinical trials at the same rate as other community sites, but there are simply options that will not be available to these patients in these networks.
    In terms of obtaining insurance after a diagnosis, it’s quite difficult if you’re not employer-insured. However, there are foundations, and used to be some state programs (e.g., high risk pools) that provided options. Again, your options might be limited, or you might be at your local safety net hospital, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that care isn’t available.
     

    Lynne
     
    It seems as if the same group of people (the otherwise uninsurable) are being catered to under the new system with exchange plans that were previously dependant on State programs or foundations because private insurance wouldn’t take them.  Is that right? 
     
    So that we’re comparing apples to apples – is the care that these people are getting worse than what they would have gotten under state plans or from foundations?  Do they have less choice wrt what treatment they receive than they would have previously?  And did the previous state/foundation system cover all the uninsured as a matter of course, the way exchanges are supposed to, or was access to these options limited by number, budget and personal income?

    Lastly, as we move toward “bundling” (another word for capitated care) the financial incentive will be for the cheapest cancer care…which patients should have the right to choose, not their health systems or policy makers

     

    Wasn’t there already a financial incentive for insurance companies to only cover the cheapest options, or (in the recent past) to actually deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions?  It’s hard to see any other outcome when health insurance (as opposed to health care) is driven primarily by the profit motive  – but I don’t see how it’s a worse problem with exchanges than it was previously. What am I missing?

    I’m not saying the present system is fantastic – but I don’t understand how people can ignore the (intrinsic?) problems with the old system when critiquing what replaced it.

    • #39
  10. George Savage Contributor
    George Savage
    @GeorgeSavage

    HVTs:

    That means using the Constitution’s Article V remedy . . . and very soon before it’s a $34 Trillion debt, not ‘merely’ $17T.

     I agree. Mark Levin, in the Liberty Amendments provides us with an excellent primer on the Article V process and some worthwhile amendments to consider.

    • #40
  11. George Savage Contributor
    George Savage
    @GeorgeSavage

    Zafar: I’m not saying the present system is fantastic – but I don’t understand how people can ignore the (intrinsic?) problems with the old system when critiquing what replaced it.

     Zafar, the pre-Obamacare system was not fantastic.  Not at all.  It was unnecessarily expensive and bureaucratic, while delivering the world’s best “sick care.”  But you know what?  The dysfunction of the pre-ACA system was largely an artifact of government involvement.  Government is directly responsible for 50 percent of all health care spending in the United States and regulates 100 percent of it.

    But the pro-Obamacare forces did not focus on tailored remedies–true reforms–for those long-term uninsured denied coverage by pre-existing conditions or economic hardship.  They upended the entire system.  On purpose.  And on a net basis, there are more uninsured as a result, not fewer.  Millions of Americans have recently been denied access to pre-existing policies with which they were well pleased as a matter of federal law.

    The statists are following their usual playbook:  sabotage a functioning market, then point to the defects caused by their intervention to justify further sabotage.

    This time the Left may have overreached.  I certainly hope so.

    • #41
  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    People who are insulated from the consequences of their actions have no incentive to behave rationally. As Hayek wrote on the theory of economic rationality:

    It is  based not on the assumption that most or all of the participants in the market process are rational, but, on the contrary, on the assumption that it will in general be through competition that a few relatively more rational individuals will make it necessary for the rest to emulate them in order to prevail. In a society in which rational behavior confers an advantage on the individual, rational methods will progressively be developed and be spread by imitation. It is no use being more rational than the rest if one is not allowed to derive benefits from being so.

    Does anyone among the political class derive benefits from being rational? The political class rewards undesirable behavior among the socially and economically disadvantaged, and as a result they reap electoral rewards for their own undesirable behavior. In fact, one could argue that neither class is really threatened by the long-term consequences of reality, so on an individual level their behavior is, in fact, rational.

    • #42
  13. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    George Savage:

    Zafar, the pre-Obamacare system was not fantastic. Not at all. It was unnecessarily expensive and bureaucratic, while delivering the world’s best “sick care.” But you know what? The dysfunction of the pre-ACA system was largely an artifact of government involvement. 

     

    George –the free market is fantastic at delivering products (like health care) but is by its nature incapable of consistently looking beyond the profit motive to define targets and outcomes.  It is, imho, magical thinking to claim that the market can be completely free but that it will still automatically result in things like universal health care that meets society’s expectations for its members. Absent regulations and price signals why should the market do this?  It will just result in a system that maximises individual and corporate profits, even if this means that a significant proportion of society cannot afford adequate health care without bankruptcy or public assistance.

    Iow if society wants something like universal health care for its members (and it really seems that it does want this) then it needs to man up and acknowledge that this goal can only be achieved by distorting the market – either up front with universal care targets (this at least harnesses the market’s efficiency to deliver on non-profit defined goals) or at the end of the process (which seems to be what things like Emergency Room laws tried to achieve –  they can’t turn someone away, even if they’ve bought and so far been satisfied with completely inadequate insurance [more magical thinking].  This approach is a much less efficient use of money, but also keeps the contradiction between the free market and universal health care from coming to the foreground).

    • #43
  14. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Zafar: Iow if society wants something like universal health care for its members (and it really seems that it does want this) then it needs to man up and acknowledge that this goal can only be achieved by distorting the market – either up front with universal care targets (this at least harnesses the market’s efficiency to deliver on non-profit defined goals) or at the end of the process (which seems to be what things like Emergency Room laws tried to achieve – they can’t turn someone away, even if they’ve bought and so far been satisfied with completely inadequate insurance [more magical thinking].

    It’s important to distinguish between “society” and “government”. Society can — and must — buttress the free market with freely given charity. Large philanthropy used to be the norm in medicine, but has been slowly crowded out (and now, actively disincentivized) by government.

    • #44
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Son of Spengler:

    Society can — and must — buttress the free market with freely given charity. 

     Charity is given by individuals – and your approach is great until a critical mass of individuals freely choose not to give.  (As they choose not to in much of the world today, and as they chose not to in most of history.  Prompting the whole ‘fund it through taxes’ thing.) What then?  

    Apparently we (as a group) do not trust individuals to do the right thing consistently without prompting, and we (as a group) are not okay with individuals dying in a ditch as a result. Conundrum?

    • #45
  16. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Zafar:

    Son of Spengler:

    Society can — and must — buttress the free market with freely given charity.

    Charity is given by individuals – and your approach is great until a critical mass of individuals freely choose not to give. (As they choose not to in much of the world today, and as they chose not to in most of history. Prompting the whole ‘fund it through taxes’ thing.) What then?

     There are ways of incentivizing private behavior that allow people still to give freely, without ultimately devolving all responsibility for people’s care to the central authority. Social pressure and conscience work as powerful motivators — whether the cause is hunger relief in Africa, tsunami relief in southeast Asia, or that ringing bell at Christmastime in the US. As with all freedom, there is a risk that private enterprise will not fill the gap. But it’s less distorting for government to offer incentives for private behavior (e.g., favorable tax treatment) than for the government to step in and provide the services directly. I don’t recall people dying in ditches pre-Obamacare, or pre-ERISA, or even pre-Medicaid. More people will be uninsured under Obamacare than before.

    • #46
  17. George Savage Contributor
    George Savage
    @GeorgeSavage

    Zafar:

    George –the free market is fantastic at delivering products (like health care) but is by its nature incapable of consistently looking beyond the profit motive to define targets and outcomes. It is, imho, magical thinking to claim that the market can be completely free but that it will still automatically result in things like universal health care that meets society’s expectations for its members. 

    Zafar, I believe the free market will do a much better job than a state-dominated system.

    Under statism, the underserved are a cost and a political problem.  In a market economy, the underserved are a market opportunity. Existing companies delivering poor service provide new entrants an opportunity to establish themselves–but only if free market entry is permitted (which is why pretty much every industry strives mightily for state controls on market entry).

     

    I have spent my entire career looking for these sorts of market opportunities in health care.  Most of the good ones are illegal to pursue–all in the name of the public interest, of course.  And now we see a “reform” enacted under the rubric of extending affordable health care to the uninsured having the actual effect of making existing policies illegal for millions–and leaving them with fewer choices at higher costs, or Medicaid–Congratulations, you are now poor!

    We now have universal cell phone ownership.  How did that happen without government intervention? 

    • #47
  18. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    George Savage:

    Zafar:

    Zafar, I believe the free market will do a much better job than a state-dominated system.

    Under statism, the underserved are a cost and a political problem. In a market economy, the underserved are a market opportunity… 

    Unless they don’t have enough money to make them worthwhile as a market.  There’s a huge assumption behind your statement – that the free market can provide everything for the available money because ingenuity and competition.  That’s a nice thought, but is there any evidence that it has done this with universal health care?  I understand the theory of why it should work, I just can’t see where it ever actually has.  Sometimes it does make better business sense to provide a service to fewer people and not to everybody.

    I do think the free market can provide better health care than the State, but I do not believe it can provide better insurance – because insurance actually adds nothing, it only encourages people to gamble with the likelihood of getting sick.  So my position is standard public insurance and private (or at least mixed) provision of services. (Like Australia.)

    • #48
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.