Was Gruber Wrong?

hans-gruber_33q3An MIT economist named Jon Gruber has been in the news recently over a series of comments that he made at conferences stating that Obamacare had to be misrepresented to the public in order for the law to be able to pass.

This culminated in a congressional hearing in which Gruber thoroughly debased himself in front of the public.

The voters may be stupid, but the bigger problem is that we have intelligent economists who nonetheless advocate for socialist health care programs, despite the obvious failures of socialism, despite the strong logical and empirical arguments against socialism.

The smartness or stupidity of the American public are less relevant than the moral and intellectual failings of elite professor/consultants like Jon Gruber. The problem with Obamacare is less within the details of implementation and more with the high level design of the thing. It was never going to have a good result from the first step. The details are just not relevant.

Democracies can sometimes achieve impressive things. They can produce occasionally impressive people. The main problem with it is that it tends to promote clever villains like Gruber who are highly capable at manipulating the masses for malign ends, and are similarly capable of convincing themselves that what they’re doing is good.

The incentive structure inherent to democracy rewards men like Gruber who are able to create policies that appeal to to vices common to the American public as it relates to medical care:

  • Sloth: I should not have to work to pay the doctor what he is owed.
  • Lust: Other citizens should pay for the negative consequences of my lack of sexual discipline. If I get a rash from banging a stranger, someone else should have to pay for it.
  • Envy: The wealthier family down the road should have to pay the doctor for me, because they have more than I do.
  • Greed: I am entitled to free work from the doctor because I want it so much.
  • Pride: Because I’m an American, and because I deserve it, because I’m a good and beautiful person, my medical care should be free. Oprah said I’m wonderful, so I am wonderful.
  • Gluttony: Even though most of my medical problems are due to my gobbling and guzzling, other people should pay for my heart bypasses, diabetes medicine, and motor scooters to move around my bulk so that I can fill my basket with more Coke and Oreos.
  • Wrath: Anyone who says that I am not entitled to free work from doctors is an evil person who doesn’t understand my fundamental rights as an American.

Gruber is so hated in part because he, unself-consciously, exposed how he exploited a population given to reveling in its own sinfulness, especially as it relates entitlement to medical care that would have been impossible less than a century ago.

This is also another way in which selecting a leadership class based on how well that they perform on quizzes is not a great idea. Whatever Gruber’s capabilities as a manipulator, under scrutiny, he repeatedly humiliated himself and betrayed his political allies. If he were going to be a villain, then it would at least be respectable if he were to be a better class of villain.

Among conservatives who were unable to muster a strong intellectual and moral case against socialized medicine from the word ‘go,’ instead tending to oppose it because it would threaten existing socialized medical care programs, it’s foolhardy for them to act as if they were really on the right side all along. Republicans and Democrats are fundamentally on the same side of the great debate over socialism, as they must be, because the people also favor socialism, whether they know it in those terms or not.

The second that you begin quibbling over the details of some socialist program is the moment that you have already ceded the central point in question: whether or not to have the state plan and regulate medical activity, rather than distributing planning and regulation in a more decentralized way.

Republicans feign shock at Gruber’s frank talk, but they themselves tend to hire similar consultants to help them to manipulate different segments of the population at different stages of their political careers using similar minor legal-vocabulary type tricks.

Stupidity is not so much a vice as it is the natural human condition among most people, everywhere, in all places. What is vicious is the flattering of the stupid that they are worthy to rule, and even worse to tell the capable that this is what’s virtuous, and that they have no other duty except to slake the greed of the mob.

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