Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Archive for January 2016

Je Suis Megyn Kelly

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Every day we ask ourselves: how can this campaign get any more crass, brutish and embarrassing to this nation? Unfortunately, we keep getting answers to this question.

If Donald Trump’s purpose is to negotiate his treatment in the debates, that is not OK. The moderators moderate. They ask probing questions. The moderators, not the candidates, uphold the rules of the debate.

If Trump’s purpose is to score points by attacking people, that’s not OK. Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton recalled Lincoln’s famous appeal to “the better angels of our nature.” Donald Trump appeals to the worse angels of our nature.

While I am no advocate of the language commonly identified as “politically correct”, I can tell the difference between political correctness and abuse. Donald Trump is abusive. The debate would be better without him, because he does not present ideas.

Trump’s assertion that Kelly did not ask him a question, but made a statement, is untrue. Here is a summary of the exchange. Here was the end of Kelly’s question:

Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?

Being the energetic, skillful genius that he is, Trump may have stopped listening — he already was giving answers — but that does not change the fact that Kelly did pose a question.

And while Trump never verbally answered the question, his behavior has answered it for me: Hell, no!


Written by srojak

January 27, 2016 at 9:41 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , ,

The Special Interests

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It’s a presidential election year, so we brace ourselves for all kinds of railing against “special interests.” But how would we know what is and what is not a special interest?

The short answer is that every interest is special. In their 1962 book The Calculus of Consent, Buchanan and Tullock rejected an organic theory of the state:

Only some organic conception of society can postulate the emergence of a mystical general will that is derived independently of the decision-making process in which the political choices made by the separate individuals are controlling. Thus, many versions of idealist democracy are, at base, but variants on the organic conception. The grail-like search for some “public interest” apart from, and independent of, the separate interests of the individual participants in social choice is a familiar activity to be found among both the theorists and the practitioners of modern democracy.
— p. 12

Buchanan and Tullock showed how effective majorities are formed from coalitions of minorities, each of whom has special interests. Those who oppose these coalitions also have special interests. The idea of a public interest that exists apart from the interest of specific individuals is a species of the Rousseauvian general will.

Most attempts to examine the role of pressure groups have bogged down in their efforts to define the “public interest.” If this cannot, in fact, be defined, it becomes impossible to determine, even conceptually, the extent to which the activity of special-interest groups either advances or retards progress toward the “general welfare.” Analysis becomes impossible without a well-defined criterion.
— p. 284.

Collectives cannot speak for themselves. Even when voting, the members of a large collective can only practically choose from among the menu of options offered to them: candidates Goldsmith, Jones, or Mercadante; for or against the question as worded.

The idea of the public interest presupposes, and indeed requires, priests of political science who can divine the ineffable interest of the public, as distinct from the special interests of any individual or subgroup. Such a priesthood could never be ideologically neutral; the priests would always have their own agendas. We must be suspicious of those who claim to have access to the mysteries and set themselves up as such priests.

Every interest is special, including yours.

Written by srojak

January 21, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Being an Informed Consumer

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Yesterday, Michelle Chafee wrote this article posted on LinkedIn. In the article, she called for three specific changes in the health care marketplace:

  1. Increased transparency of health licensing boards;
  2. Increased oversight on disciplinary decisions;
  3. Better educated and engaged health care consumers.

Points 1 and 2 don’t mean very much without point 3. Ms. Chafee writes:

Like it or not, if you want the best care, you are going to have to educate yourself and take some initiative in managing your health.  The medical system is complex and getting more complicated with the huge increase in patients seeking care.  Anyone who still holds firm to the belief that they can blindly put their faith in the system and expect their family doctor to manage all the details of their care is bound to be disappointed.  …  You are going to have to put in the time and energy to research what information is currently available when choosing a physician, educate yourself on your individual health issues and make the necessary preventative changes to improve your health and well being.

The obvious question is: how does this actually work? If I am going to put the time and energy into being an informed consumer, what other activities am I taking the time and energy away from?

One of the great delusions of economics is “perfect information.” With perfect information, markets always clear, decision makers are always rational and life is great. However, information is itself a good and has value. It has costs to produce. It can’t possibly be free.

We are talking about health care — the providers went to medical school to become subject matter experts. The consumer cannot abdicate completely to the providers; Our Bodies, Ourselves was written in the first place as a rebellion against having the providers make all the decisions. At the same time, it would be a full-time job for the consumer to become as informed as the providers.

There is no satisfactory answer to this problem, and there are going to be many twists and turns in the story before we find a satisfactory ending.

Written by srojak

January 14, 2016 at 4:08 pm