Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 4, 2009

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Conservative economist Arthur Laffer appeared on CNN earlier, and made the kind of insightful observation we've come to expect from him and other opponents of health care reform.

"If you like the Post Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles and you think they're run well, just wait till you see Medicare, Medicaid and health care done by the government."

Regrettably, no one laughed out loud on the argument. Worse, no one bothered to note that Medicare and Medicaid are run by the government, and that Laffer's observation was child-like foolishness.

It's remarkable to me that the larger policy debate is so often stuck at the starting gate. At the AARP event last week, President Obama relayed this anecdote: "And I got a letter the other day from a woman; she said, 'I don't want government-run health care, I don't want socialized medicine, and don't touch my Medicare.' And I wanted to say, well, I mean, that's what Medicare is, is it's a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with. But I think that we've been so accustomed to hearing those phrases that sometimes we can't sort out the myth from the reality."

Paul Krugman noted in his column last week:

At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to "keep your government hands off my Medicare." The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program -- but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, "wasn't having any of it."

It's a funny story -- but it illustrates the extent to which health reform must climb a wall of misinformation. It's not just that many Americans don't understand what President Obama is proposing; many people don't understand the way American health care works right now. They don't understand, in particular, that getting the government involved in health care wouldn't be a radical step: the government is already deeply involved, even in private insurance. And that government involvement is the only reason our system works at all.

It's frustrating that there's widespread confusion, and it's more frustrating still that we have prominent conservative figures like Arthur Laffer exacerbating the confusion on national television.

But let's also not forget that opponents of reform have a vested interest in keeping things this way.

Steve Benen 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

Why is the argument about inefficient government always made regarding the post office and not the military. The post office is inefficient? Then why can I put a card in the mail for my children and have it go 2000 miles in 2 or 3 days for 44 cents?

Government may not be perfect but in almost every instance its record is far superior than the record of those who criticize it endlessly. Indeed in most instances the government has a better record of accuracy and accomplishment than do the news organizations that love to criticize.

Posted by: Stuart Shiffman on August 4, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Laugher (sic)!! How's that wondrous curve of yours working out? Record deficits? Government cutbacks? Financial ruin? Good for you.

Posted by: Former Dan on August 4, 2009 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Or simply, it's more frustrating still that we have prominent conservative figures like Arthur Laffer Period.

Fixed it.

Posted by: ckelly on August 4, 2009 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

The Post Office is NOT run by the Government, only interferred with by Congress.

Medicare and Mediaid ARE run by the Government, and their problem is they too are interferred with by Congress not allowing them to control payment rates to Doctors and Hospitals, resulting in Medicare rate inflation at 1.5 times that or regular inflation.

Of course private health care costs are rising at 2 times regular inflation, so at least the Government represents relative savings.

Former Dan, I think that's the Laffer Curve. And Laffer simply said there was a top marginal rate where tax revenue would increase most effectively. Bill Clinton and Boy George II demonstrated that the point was 39.6%, not 36%.

Posted by: Lance on August 4, 2009 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Listen, Laffer isn't THAT dumb. He's just reinforcing the GOP ubermessage: government = evil, private sector = everything good. He's taking advantage of the fact that the GOP base is stunningly (and knowingly) ignorant.

Posted by: Doctor Whom on August 4, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Think of the billions of dollars administered by Social Security to millions and millions of people. According to the Trustees report, the cost of administering the OASI (old age and survivors insurance) in 2008 was 0.6%.

When was the last time you heard of any big Social Security administration snafu? When was the last time you heard of any big Social Security administration scandal?

They wanted to privatize Social Security and turn it over to Wall Street. Often making the same arguments that the government can't do anything right and private buisness does everything better.

Does anybody credibly believe that anyone on Wall St could do the same job - snafu-free and scandal-free - for 0.6% cost a year.

Laffer and his ilk should be exposed for the charlatan shills that they are.

Posted by: andy on August 4, 2009 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

you can thank saint ronnie rayguns for the stoopidity of the american people in thinking that their government's interference in the fleecing of themselves by the corporations is an evil evil thing.

you can thank him and his followers that a pompous idiot like geo bush can barely articulate, "ah think you can spend yer money more better than the govimint do," and the vast american populance nods at the sagacity of such drivel.

whatta country!

Posted by: neill on August 4, 2009 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, maybe the Post Office can deliver your mail for 44¢, but FedEx can deliver the same letter for about $20. Let's force everyone to use FedEx!

Posted by: martin on August 4, 2009 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I just get so frustrated with the rank ignorance and lack of thinking capacity of Americans. These twits who think that Medicare is privately run are just a small part of the problem. Then there are the dolts who think that an insurance adjuster whose bonus and even continued employment depend of finding ways to deny paying medical bills is preferable to a government bureaucrat. And the ninnies who just know that global warming is a fraud. And the birfers are in a category all by themselves. How can a country with so many of these knuckleheads ever survive in an age when acquaintance with reality is so important for survival?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on August 4, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

@Lance: Clinton and Boy George didn't prove that 39.6% was the top marginal rate for most effective tax income; they just proved that it was closer to 39.6% than to 36%. My guess is that it's probably somewhere between 45-55%, but nobody really knows, and if the top rate only applies to really high incomes (say >$10 million/pa) it might be even higher.

Posted by: DavidNOE on August 4, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

I always have things delivered to the Post Office when I can, because it gets here faster, with less hassle, than FedEx (FedEx Home simply means slower than molasses) or UPS

Posted by: Carol on August 4, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I guess we'll really have to simplify the message to something like "Public Option Is Medicare For All", before the average "real American" understands it.

Posted by: exlibra on August 4, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

"prominent conservative figures like Arthur Laffer" -- that's your problem right there.

Posted by: paul on August 4, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody will ever be able to talk any sense into a lot of those idiots, but another myth we need to try and stomp is that there will be an increase in total cost of care, when we're already paying double per capita for worse service (compared to other 1st world nations).

Posted by: Racer X on August 4, 2009 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

It is becoming glaringly apparant that the Dumbing Down of America has succeded beyond their wildest dreams . There are no critical thinkers left . Mr and Mrs. Avererage American is too effin stoopid to reap the benefits of an active democracy . Idiocracy has arrived.

Posted by: John R on August 4, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to remember Laffer being caught back in the 1980's lying about having a Ph.D., when in fact he did not. My memory is that he had go back and finish his thesis before getting his degree. The Wikipedia bio has no mention of this. Did they retrospectively revise his bio or do I have him confused with some other conservative economist?

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on August 4, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

If health care were run as well as the Post Office, I'd be happy. Medicare and Medicaid are already done by the government, so that part makes no sense.

The only part of the Laffer curve that is known are the endpoints at 0 and 100% taxation. The rest is highly theoretical and probably a dynamic system.

Posted by: qwerty on August 4, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I'm trying to think of a more aptly named conservative than Laffer.

Posted by: doubtful on August 4, 2009 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

(FedEx Home simply means slower than molasses)

After my last few experiences with FedEx Home, I refuse to do business with any firm that insists on using it.

I much prefer any USPS service you care to name (even parcel post) to FEdEx Home.

Posted by: Pee Cee on August 4, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

I had some friends from Missouri and they said the DMV improved immeasurably there once it was privatized. They loved it.

I'm fine with Minnesota's DMV and frankly I would go to the mat for USPS, my experiences with them have been friendly, informative, quick, effective and have found them to be by far the most reliable for my letters and packages.

So frankly I love USPS.

Posted by: MNPundit on August 4, 2009 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, you had me at "Conservative economist Arthur Laffer appeared on CNN". What's behind the urge to book all of these discredited hacks on tee-bee shows anyway?

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on August 4, 2009 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

@DavidNOE:

Given the I believe that nobody adds 10, 20 or 100 million dollars in value in their job.

And given that the people receiving these high salaries in bonuses introduce very distort the economy in very damaging ways to extract and/or justify them (see the recent banking crisis, the S&L bailout, Enron, etc, etc.)

I think a good case could be made that very high marginal rates on $10 million+ incomes would be beneficial overall, even if the total revenue from people in those top brackets decreased. Any lost revenue would be offset by the removal of those distorting influences and the return of the money they are extracting from the system in the form of increased middle-class and lower-class salaries and wages.

Posted by: tanstaafl on August 4, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

@ J. Frank Parnell

I'm guessing, but you may perhaps be thinking of Srully Blotnick, who wrote for Forbes until sometime in the '80s when it became known that his Ph.D. was from a correspondence school and NY state started to investigate his description of himself as a psychologist.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on August 4, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Laff-able! Hey, what about water works and sewage systems? Run by cities and counties, but still "governments" and most people think they work well enough. Most people on Medicare also think it works well enough, and that their private health insurance doesn't.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on August 4, 2009 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

BTW: MNPundit, that "privatized" DMV in MO, if real, would *have* to be monitored and audited by the State because of legal and liability issues. So that's what "public insurance" might look like if the government authorized the companies and didn't just eliminate them in a single payer option.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on August 4, 2009 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why not respond "If you liked the AIG bailout, just wait till you see the government bailing out health insurance companies"!

Posted by: H-Bob on August 4, 2009 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

In recent years I have found the Post Office to be very efficient. Mostly if I mail a first class letter from Tucson to elsewhere in AZ, it gets to its destination the next day.

Also AZ DMV, at least in Tucson, is efficient. You go in, take a number, and wait. Yes, you have to wait 15 min or so, because they're BUSY. They have something like 40 clerks at 40 windows, and anytime that I have to deal with one, they've always been pleasant and businesslike.

I'm 63. I'm hoping that by the time I go on Medicare in 2011, that the Obama Admin will have straightened out the whole part D mess and will be putting the screws to the drug cos for the best prices possible.

I'm lucky--I retired from the U. of Arizona a couple of years ago and I still get my health insurance through the U, and it's a good deal. But that doesn't mean that I am unaware that other Americans are struggling to pay healthcare bills or doing without, and I want to see that change. Offering a single payer option is just a foot in the door. I'm hoping to see in my lifetime a sensible health plan in this country.

Meanwhile, I'm perfectly happy to deal with USPS and DMV. Sigh. The conservatives these days just plain don't know what they're talking about.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on August 4, 2009 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

The DMV where I live is wonderful. It is an odious task to go there anyway, but they are a model of efficiency and the system works great.

Somebody very smart thought it through and devised a system. What a concept.

Posted by: Repack Rider on August 4, 2009 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't it mentioned in a blog posting following this one that Krugman got cancelled because the network show couldn't find someone to "balance" him with an opposing voice? Why does Laffer get on without an opposing viewpoint? I think we all need the answer.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on August 4, 2009 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

If health care was run as well as the Post Office or the public library system I wouldn't just be happy, I'd be estatic!

Posted by: mfw13 on August 4, 2009 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

stuart schiffman-

The post office is inefficient? Then why can I put a card in the mail for my children and have it go 2000 miles in 2 or 3 days for 44 cents?

Meanwhile, the "birthday card" I sent to my mother 20 miles away also took 3 days and also cost $0.44

Posted by: I am AlGore's hairy manboobs on August 4, 2009 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

I am Al....how much you think it would have cost you to drive the 20-miles...

and hand deliver it?

more than 44-cents?

gop: we suck at economics...

Posted by: mr. irony on August 5, 2009 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

BTW: MNPundit, that "privatized" DMV in MO, if real, would *have* to be monitored and audited by the State because of legal and liability issues. So that's what "public insurance" might look like if the government authorized the companies and didn't just eliminate them in a single payer option.

Actually, a privatized DMV is an example of a single payer system (a la Medicare)--the state pays private contractors for performance of a service. In contrast, the traditional government DMV setup with the service performed by salaried civil servants is analogous to the VA Health system.

Posted by: beowulf on August 5, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Too bad Mark Kleiman's publisher is slow as molasses or he'd sell a lot of books over this decision.
http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9018.html

Posted by: beowulf on August 5, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.texaspolicy.com/legislativeupdates_single.php?report_id=2755

Posted by: Alan on August 5, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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