DEMOCRACY: A JOURNAL OF IDEAS? Congrats to Andrei Cherny and Ken Baer on the coming out party for their new journal Democracy. It's long been a frustration to me that I can enter a bookstore and find the shelves dotted with serious -- which is to say oddly sized and densely written -- conservative journals, but can't pick up anything save the occasional copy of Dissent when I'm in the mood for some lefty wonkery. That said, I'm a bit confused by the wonkery on display. Explaining the "why" of their magazine, Cherny and Baer write that "Progressives too often have come to eschew bold ambition, preferring to take shelter in the safe harbor of 'realism' and 'competence.'" As a result, Democracy will "not seek to publish policy papers or political plans; we�ll leave the budget line items and electoral strategies to others. Rather, Democracy will serve as a place where ideas can be developed and important debates can be spurred. We see our role as upsetting accepted assumptions and pushing the boundaries of what is accepted by, and expected from, progressives."
Alright! So let's flip forward into this bold, visionary future that eschews budget line items and pushes the boundaries of progressive thought. Indeed, let's flip straight to Jason Furman's feature on fixing the health care system by -- wait a sec, this can't be right -- limiting the deductibility of health insurance? Slightly restructuring our tax code? Oy. This approach, at least, promises "little risk of undermining the employer-sponsored health system, because the proposal would retain the current structure of tax subsidies for employer-sponsored insurance." Now that's how to push a boundary -- shove it all the way back to where the recommendations of George W. Bush's tax commission left it. Furman declines to explain, however, why retaining the employer-based system is a feature, not a bug. What he does advise is that "progressives should focus more on efficiency," which sounds a lot like "realism and competence" to me. "Some progressives," he warns, "may say that such a plan is timid," -- yes, and I'm one of them -- "that the United States should move aggressively toward a Canadian-style national health service." Heavens forfend!
Sigh. So Furman not only launches this bold new experiment in ideas with the most deadeningly technocratic quasi-fix imaginable, but he derides his hypothetical progressive interlocutors as supporting Canada's system -- a mediocre-at-best alternative that virtually no serious health wonks champion (indeed, I've made the case against CanadaCare previously). There's a case for moving aggressively towards the French system, or maybe the German system, but invoking Canada's demonized and uninventive structure is a way of shutting the argument down. Which is really the last thing Democracy should be doing. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm excited for this venture. I thrill to new periodicals. But Furman has offered a plan with all the worst aspects modern liberalism: It's timid, it won't solve the underlying problems of health costs or care quality, and it'll be wildly unpopular. Would it be better than the present system? Sure. But let the politicians inch the ball forward; Democracy should be aiming farther downfield.
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