Saturday, January 27, 2007

Why Can't Politicians Be More Like Scientists?

In my last post, I wrote about how scientific economists (hopefully not a contradiction in terms) go about studying an issue, and I defined the four principal elements of the object of their study. These four elements are:

1. Who-Does, or who is the actor in a given process ["Who"];

2. What-Does, or what that person does ["Action"];

3. Why-Does, or the reasons for his choice of action ["Why"]; and

4. The Range-of-Results, or the various effects of his individual and/or their collective choice(s) on both the object of their Action and the surrounding elements that might be affected, to the most accurate degree that a scientist is able to observe and describe these effects, which degree may be limited, and which description is eternally subject to revision ["Results."]

I also mentioned a fifth element that certain unscientific persons, such as environmental groups, like to include in their equations:

5. Should Do, or a prescribed Action an unscientific person thinks Who should choose, i.e. a kind of moral-straightjacket set of instructions for Who's proper Actions, which disrespectful instructions and unscientifically-determined Actions may disregard the accurate measurement of Results [we'll call this "Should"].

I am now introducing a sixth element that I will call:

6. Perverse-Partisan-Persuasion, or the efforts of said unscientific persons, most often activists or politicians, and most often for reasons tied into their own personal ambition, to convince Who that he Should choose a particular Action, in spite of his own potentially preexisting Why (which must then be overridden), and in complete defiance of the deleterious Results the superimposed Action will obtain ["P-P-P"].

[Thanks to for the photo.]

An example of this:

Linda Chavez has a nice piece over at Townhall on the Democrats' intention to shoot down the President's idea of allowing tax breaks to encourage people to obtain health care coverage.

For reasons known only to themselves but that we can conjecture, the Democrats doing the shooting have either not studied the clauses of the President's proposal, or they are knowingly disregarding the content of those clauses.

The proposal simply restates the employer-paid health coverage premium as income for the employee, which it already is; then it gives all employees a set tax break for an amount probably higher than this (employer-paid) cost for the purchase of health insurance.

This is pretty much quid pro quo; and in every case the tax break either will result in no change at all to the employee's tax situation, or it will give the employee an added tax break that he didn't have before. If the employee is rich, he will benefit; but if he is not, he will also benefit. If the employee has no insurance, he will now be able to buy some at government expense. If the employee is poor -- oh that's right, in California he is already insured through Medical, and in other states the same applies, so even if he doesn't buy insurance (and doesn't get the tax break), he will still be insured.

In short, the President's plan would offer a tax break for every family, whether or not they are insured, and it most likely will encourage employees to purchase insurance. Ms. Chavez also goes into some other positive effects this incentive might have on the health insurance market. (She also eliminates some of the bad effects it might have, but that's not my point here.)

Although everyone may not end up buying health insurance, enough people probably will to make a difference in the market dynamics of the health care industry, and this would have a good effect on price competition for coverage. Incentives matter in economics, and even though we can't be sure this proposal will get everyone into a health care policy, we can assume that more people will have insurance than do now. This increased health market participation is also an important goal of the plan, and after all, it is useless to strive for perfection through this or any proposal.

To come back to my main point, we must conclude that Democrats against this proposal either (1) do not understand it (even though it is their job to study and understand such things); (2) they believe in some government-sponsored single-payor panacea as a better solution; or (3) they refuse to acknowledge that they do understand it. Whatever the precondition, they bring on the P-P-P (Perverse Partisan Persuasion) (otherwise known as Grandstanding) and seize this occasion to chant the hackneyed mantra about Bush's motive to "give tax breaks to people who don't need them, while continuing to deny essential health care to the most vulnerable."

Scientists and thoughtful people try to focus on Who, What, Why, and Results and learn to recognize and sidestep Should and P-P-P.


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