Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ObamaCare: the general public is misinformed?

ObamaCare has become increasingly out of favor with the general public. As more and more information surfaces regarding what is actually inside the ObamaCare bill, the general public has become increasing called for repeal of ObamaCare.

The following infamous statement by Nancy Pelosi, although a sadly uninformed statement, may have paved the future path of discontent with ObamaCare: "We have to pass the bill so yo can find out what is in it". (1) As the general public "finds" what is within the ObamaCare bill the more they dislike the content.

The general electorate is misinformed?

The counter argument of the framers and supporters of ObamaCare to the rising voices in support of repeal is that those opposing ObamaCare are merely misinformed. The argument has overtones of "they don't know what is good for them". Some framers and supporters of ObamaCare have gone so far to argue that ObamaCare was not "presented" correctly to the general public. In other words, ObamaCare needed "sold" to the general public.

Special Knowledge and Experts

Below is a link to EconTalk with Russ Roberts from 10/25/2010. The interview is with Thomas W. Hazlett a Professor of Law & Economics at George Mason University School of Law. (2)

The entire segment is very interesting however take a moment and listen to the five minute segment of 36:43 - 41:30.


The segment mentioned above is about buying consumer products that "signal". That is, the proposition you are what you buy, eat, listen too, etc.. Its related to the concept of conspicuous consumption. Roberts and Hazlett get into a discussion regarding Thomas Sowell's observations that self appointed experts within a field (cameras in this example) despise mass marketers and despise those that buy from mass marketers (Kodak cameras). That self appointed experts view buying from a mass marketer as saying something about "you" with moral tones attached. That buying from the mass marketer, although in the self interest of the novice camera user, is somehow making the purchaser a lesser person.

Lets take this notion and transpose it onto the field of political-economy and in particular the anointed/intelligentsia. That the self appointed anointed/intelligentsia think of themselves as experts of special knowledge. (3) That they alone come up with unique ideas. That they are the center of the manufacturing of unique, knowledgeable, and insightful ideas. In other words, they are the experts in Sowell's camera example.

The self anointed/intelligentsia only have one product to sell and that is “ideas”. As pointed out by many, the ideas are not empirically tested ideas but rather ideas based on “the way things ought to be”. That is to say, ideas based on “the way things ought to be” that basically paints the world in their author's own self image. Do the anointed/intelligentsia, who’s only product is ideas, attempt to shape their ideas as the "signal" mentioned above? The extension of which, is that if you espouse and repeat the ideas of these self appointed experts then you "signal" that you are a purveyor of unique, knowledgeable, and insightful ideas as well.

Conversely, propositions that challenge the ideas of the self anointed/intelligentsia are, as discussed above, labeled "mass marketed ideas". That buying into these labeled "mass marketed idea" says something about "you" with moral tones attached, as perceived by the self appointed experts within the field of ideas. That somehow you are a lesser person as you reject or counter the "signal".

In practice the anointed/intelligentsia want to frame counter arguments to their signal as being "the status quo". More specifically, the "cling to their bibles and guns" vilification exercise is merely an argument-with-no-arguments to create a baseless debate counter point to the long standing empirically tested ideas of the anointed's opposition aka the emperically based camp. In essence, what the anointed/intelligentsia label "the status quo", is really the widely held common sense and empirical arguments of their opposition.

For example, ObamaCare is based upon a price-fixing scheme. It widely known that price-fixing schemes result in quantitative and qualitative reductions in supply aka rationing. Therefore one might say that this particular emperical point and/or axiom is in fact a very important "status quo". Rather than the anointed/intelligentsia countering the price-fixing scheme argument they merely label the counter argument as "the status quo" which results in an argument with no arguments.

In the final analysis, emperically tested ideas and common sense ideas put forth by those countering the "signal" are bundled into the phrase "status quo" (with the conotation that the "status quo" is some sort of mass marketed idea). Next "status quo" is arbitrarily and purposely given negative overtones by the anointed/intelligentcia. However, and in fact, "status quo" is a totally baseless tag line used to put forth an argument with no agruments rather than an argument of facts.

Are Some Politicians the Self Anointed/Intelligentsia?

Many politicos fancy themselves as self anointed/intelligentsia and/or align themselves with those producing the "signal". A problem emerges that if your ideas are not empirically based and merely based "on the way thing ought to be" and consequently painting the world in your own self image, then what if the ideas are presented as a politico?

Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia discusses moral side constraints at length. He poses the question of do we know of a being with no moral side constraints? Yes we do: animals. That humans attach no moral side constraints to animals i.e. the law of the jungle. Hence the lion eating the zebra, the hawk eating the field mouse, the scavengers eating the remains of carcass…humans accept this behavior and add no moral side constraints.

Yet we have humans wanting to add moral side constraints regarding humans killing animals e.g. we should not eat meat with the argument based not killing the animal should be a moral side constraint. Hence we have the paradoxical argument of having a set of beings with no requirement of moral side constraints yet a separate set of beings are required to have moral side constraints regarding the set of beings with no moral side constraints.

Keeping the above mentioned paradoxical moral side constraint argument in mind, have humans allowed the same paradoxical argument to exist between politicians and the general electorate? In other words, falsifying, misrepresenting, and espousing half truth are not moral side constraint of politicians yet are moral side constraints of the general electorate.

If politicians have a separate set of moral side constraints, and have often been reported to falsify, misrepresent, and espouse half truth, then what if this same group tries to "sell" non- empirical ideas based on "the ways things ought to be" which consequently paint the world in their own self image? That is to say, would politicos falsify, misrepresent, and espouse half truths in order to paint the world in their own self image through the idea of "the ways things ought to be"?


The general public is misinformed in regards to ObamaCare? -Or- conversely, has the general public been purposely misinformed about ObamaCare?


(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-ESBSAqvvk


(3)Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society

(4)Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

1 comment:

  1. W.E. - I'm a regular listener of EconTalk. I enjoy the podcast immensely and always learn something from it.

    Your write-up on Nozick's book reminded me of a series of EconTalks Russ did about a year and a half ago with Dan Klein on Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments". Those are very worthwhile.