Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., talks with reporters following the announcement that he will support the health-care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
There is a classic economics experiment called the "ultimatum game," which demonstrates how our decision-making process isn't solely determined by rational calculations. In the experiment, one subject is usually given a small sum of money and told to divide it however he wants between himself and another subject. If the second subject accepts his offer, they both keep the cash. But if the second subject rejects the offer, neither of them gets anything. Rationality suggests that the second subject should accept any offer, since even $1 is better than nothing.
I’ll be saying more about this in my column on Tuesday, but as this new uprising among progressives like Howard Dean, Markos Moulitsas, and Keith Olbermann against the health-care bill has emerged, much of the fire has been directed at the individual mandate, the requirement for everyone to be insured. This often takes the form of “people are going to be forced to buy crappy insurance from evil insurance companies, and they won’t have a public option.” While the last part is true, and the second part (about the companies being evil) is basically true, there are elements to the first part that haven’t been addressed enough.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., talks to reporters after leaving a Democratic caucus outside of the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009.(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
The debate over health-care reform has been many things. It has been an education in both the intricacies of public policy and the ease with which fears can be activated and deception accomplished. It has been a dispiriting exercise in the limits and pathologies of American politics. And it has been a clash of values.
Because progressives think government can actually solve problems, they tend to have at least a partially technocratic view of policy. At least in theory, it should be possible to analyze a problem, assess various solutions to it, select the one most likely to solve it, and then implement that solution. Yet so often in our country, this self-evidently sensible approach ends up feeling like an unattainable ideal.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
When Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, recently proposed a surtax that would pay for the Afghanistan War, the collective response from most of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle was, "Are you nuts?" Nancy Pelosi quickly put the kibosh on Obey's "Share the Sacrifice Act," and all talk of funding the war has been banished. Meanwhile, Democrats have spent untold hours debating how to finance health-care reform, all while Republicans carp about how doing so is just too darn expensive, what with our ever-climbing deficit.
In last month’s print issue, I wrote about the status of the newspaper syndicated columnist. Although it’s something of a complex picture, one of the conclusions you come to after examining the issue is that words on a page still have a power to bestow prestige that pixels on a screen lack. And in this age of ever-multiplying sources of news, information, and especially commentary, there are certain sinecures that bring unmatched influence.