Saturday, October 19, 2013

Things Imagined and Unimagined

"Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil."

~Frédéric Bastiat, What is Seen and What is Not Seen

 Imagine, for a moment, the Death Star. 

Something like this is going to come to mind.  A big, metal sphere of destruction with a weird inverted nipple towards the top (nobody ever imagines it upside down).  Not a particularly difficult exercise so far, right?  We see replays of the movie where it travels in space and blows up a planet.  We can all imagine the Death Star functioning.  

Now, imagine how the Death Star works. 

That's right, you can't.  The details of the corridors alone would boggle your mind; it would be easier to imagine every single road and subway on planet Earth.  Never mind trying to wire and power this thing; how will you feed everyone?  How will society function on such a station? 

It is easy to imagine something working, even something as stupidly complex as the Death Star.  But just because we can picture something happening doesn't make it practical or even possible.  

This is a huge problem in the healthcare debate of our day.  People, even among the more intelligent voters, are easily mislead into thinking their imaginations have any more connection with reality than the Death Star.  They imagine poor and sick people who have been denied coverage all of a sudden being able to log onto a computer, buy coverage, and then be healthy.  Everyone lived happily ever after, The End. 

That daydream is the equivalent of the picture above.  It is the outer shell and nothing more.  The devil lies in the details, and I have noticed not a single Obamacare supporter I know can discuss the details of the law they support any better than they can the heating system of the Emperor's sadistic toy above.  In any discussion about Obamacare, what generally happens is the equivalent of asking me whether I want a Death Star of my own or not. 

Hell yes, I want my own Death Star.  But am I willing to risk my future on actually attempting such a ludicrous project?   Absolutely not.  Great health care for all would be fantastic, but that doesn't make it possible. 

My opponents in this argument have catastrophically failed to understand the distinction between wanting things and those things being feasible.  The debate was never about whether everyone having health care insurance is a good thing in and of itself.  Of course that would be wonderful.  But granting that statement does not mean one must support Obamacare.  One can support Obamacare as a substitute term for universal and less expensive health care if and only if it actually functionally delivers on universal and less expensive health care. This requires supporters to look into the equivalent of the Death Star's pathways, heating ducts, placement of cafeterias, security systems, electrical systems, structural integrity, bathrooms, communication networks, navigation tools, command and control, propulsion, and every other system in detail, lest any one of them fail and the entire station be nothing more than a tomb for those on board.  

I do not know a single person who did this for Obamacare.  Every single opponent of mine relied on replacing their want for universal health care in place of any deep understanding of the law that would supposedly implement it. 

If pressed at all, supporters of this law ultimately had to place their trust in politicians and government bureaucrats to see that all of the moving parts meshed together seamlessly.  What is most frustrating about this faith is that in any other context, the same supporter would give an unequivocal "no" if asked whether we should trust politicians and government bureaucrats. 

They believe this with good reason.  One does not have to read Hayek to know the fundamental limits of what government can do, though it helps.  And yet, in following this Holy Grail of theirs, they lose sight of truths as obvious as the rising of the Sun. 

In order to achieve their idea of a great goal, supporters of this law have required the entire nation board a dysfunctional Death Star.  It is so poorly designed that most of the people who need to get on board cannot do so.  It has come at incredible cost to working class people like myself in terms of less full-time jobs, hours cut, and losing health care plans we like. 

It is time to scrap this plan. The imagined "Good" still floats before the eyes of my opponents in this issue, but I beg them, if they actually care about the good of other human beings impacted by this law, to actually examine what is happening rather than seeing what they want to happen.  Please take into account the harm done to real human beings.  

If nothing else, please admit to yourselves how little you knew about the law you gave support to and those you gave power to that it may be implemented.    The time has come to ask whether you value the well being of people or the survival of this law.  They are not identical.