Ever heard the term useful idiots? Thousands of them gathered in the streets of D.C. at the height of the Iraq War. Pink-bedizened. Face paint. Bush/Hitler signs… strutting and fretting their 15 minutes on the stage. They were incapable of engaging in rational discussion. Arguments began with an effigy and ended with a ‘No Blood for Oil’ sign. America eventually turned against the War. Perhaps the idiots were useful. But when it came to “rational discourse,” there was no outcry from the establishment left.
These days, useful idiots comprise a small percentage of the town hall meetings and tea-parties of the center-right. This subset is loud, angry and not particularly conversant on the subject of health care. But they may be useful. Early on, the MSM tried to magnify this minority as a means of discrediting all opposition to healthcare nationalization. Turns out, they were more useful to the right for whipping up the base and expanding opposition to healthcare nationalization despite the MSM. For better or worse, people did a double-take.
Now that these idiots are being somewhat effective, the left (and even some libertarians) are whining about “rational discourse.” Part of me longs for an intelligent conversation. But as one who has witnessed way too much useful idiocy on the left – from Code Pink to the Hope and Change sheeple – I am no longer terribly eager to explain the nuances of end-of-life consultation now that the tables have turned. Democracy is warty. And tit was made for tat.
When it comes down to it, the right has been offering good ideas for healthcare reform for years—one of which was completely sandbagged in 2006. Saner rightwing voices are being marginalized by the MSM. The MSM's favorite narrative is that the right is being “obstructionist,” offering no reform ideas of their own. Nothingcould be further from the truth. Now that a merry band of useful idiots is helping shut down the left’s aspirations for a “public option,” I’m okay with some of these folks being right for the wrong reasons. Until the left and the MSM are willing to a) acknowledge our reform ideas exist, b) discuss them intelligently before the public, and c) stop framing genuine opposition as nothing but a bunch of birthers, racists and troglodytes, I for one will sit back and smile whenever I hear a useful idiot say something like “death panel.”
(Note: none of this is meant as my weighing on on the World Net Daily controversy. Some forms of idiocy are probably not useful.)
You and many readers of Daily Kos are furious that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey expressed - in the pages of the Wall Street Journal - his opposition to greater government involvement in health care.
Exercising your rights and abilities as consumers, you are therefore boycotting Whole Foods. You're using your freedom to avoid paying for products offered by someone whose attitude toward government you disapprove of.
Isn't freedom wonderful?!
But I must ask: do you endorse my freedom to boycott paying for products offered by those whose attitude toward government I disapprove of? Like you, I have very strong opinions about the proper role of government, and also like you, a famous chief executive is now endorsing government policies that I find reprehensible.
Will you champion my freedom to stop supporting, with my money, Barack Obama's services? Will you come to my defense if I stop paying taxes to support those policies of Mr. Obama with which I disagree - policies such as the economic 'stimulus,' more vigorous antitrust regulation, and cap and trade? Indeed, will you defend me if I choose not to pay taxes to support Obamacare?
If you will support me in my boycott, then I applaud your principle and, although I disagree with you about Mr. Mackey's political views, fully support your freedom to boycott Whole Foods. But if you will not support me in my boycott, then can you tell me on what principle you would stand if someone (say, Mr. Mackey) managed to secure legislation that obliges you to shop at Whole Foods?
I think this affair shows just how divided we are as a country. And I'm no longer so sure I'm interested in the rift healing. Our vocabularies are becoming "incommensurable," as Richard Rorty would say. The fundamental difference between us is a principle of coercion versus a principle of choice. How am I supposed to coexist with coercion?
Anyway, as Mackey continues to fight for both principle and pragmatism, he may end up losing millions. But his legacy will be measured in the liberty he bought with those millions -- and we'll have him to thank.
Megan McArdle touches on a few of the answers here. But I'd like to give my own quick and dirty Top Ten:
1. The tax code (pdf) is designed so that people get their health insurance overwhelmingly through their employer. No real competition here - if they pick it, you take it. No price pain, either. So overconsumption and high premiums follow.
2. Baumol's cost disease. McArdle mentions that wages and salaries are higher in service industries. Expensive technologies are a part of it, but labor costs are massive.
4. Medicaid death spiral. As more kids and young people get into SChip (Medicaid), the more the low-risk folks get out of the private risk pool, which drives up premiums.
5. Third party payer systems cause overconsumption. If you pay $15 dollars for whatever prescription you get from the drugstore, you don't see who pays for the extra $85 you're not having to pay. The answer is everyone, in the form of higher premiums. Nexium or Prilosec OTC? Why not Nexium? It's only $15 right? Wrong. (This is just as true for socialized medicine as a PPO, btw, until the rationing starts.)
6. Unpooled risk. Too much government coverage and a crazy quilt system means risk remains unpooled.
7. Heroic measures at the end of life are very expensive. People who don't have to bear the full costs of care will keep people on life support for months in the hope that their family members will survive, even if they have the quality of life of Terry Shiavo. This is understandable, but expensive.
8. Our system is rife with lawsuits brought by people like John Edwards. The payments are out of control, making malpractice insurance expensive -- costs of which are passed onto you and me.
9. Pharma is expensive due to longer patent periods, high regulatory hurdles for new drugs and the fact that the rest of the world has price controls, so we actually subsidize their drugs.
10. Insurance companies are limited in their ability to charge variable rates for unhealthy lifestyles and incentives for healthier lifestyles.
(11. Oops! Forgot one. You can't legally by cheaper health insurance in another state. Dumb, huh?)
About 8 out of 10 of these are problems caused by government, which means that they can be changed by government. This government doesn't want to change them, because they want prices to be high. Why? We'll cry uncle. We'll cry for socialized medicine out of sheer ignorance about 1-10 above.
Here's a YouTube primer I did on the subject a couple of years ago (2 parts):
I love my daily Don. Don Boudreaux has recently sent out two of the most salient quotes for modern times, both by H.L.Mencken...
People in the mass soon grow used to anything, including even being swindled. There comes a time when the patter of the quack becomes as natural and as indubitable to their ears as the texts of Holy Writ, and when that time comes it is a dreadful job debamboozling them.
Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
If he would not have cautioned against the notion vociferously, I'd say Mencken was a soothsayer. At the very least we should chew on these quotes for a few minutes and think about the sheeple gathering to wash the feet of he who can absolve them of white guilt and fix the economy/global warming/insert hobgoblin all at once.
What Mencken saw, and today's commentariat so often do not, is that the United States has become a nation of symbol, spectacle and self-delusion. There is perhaps no bigger threat to individual liberty than this trinity.
Symbol is the best we can say about the coron - eh hem - inauguration of President Obama. Last night we were treated to an HBO rock concert (spectacle) that I'm sure was as symbolic as it was puerile (I didn't see it, thankfully). The symbolism of past prejudices finally overcome is good thing, I grant. A part-black president. Yay. Finally, kids in the hood have something to aspire to besides platinum records and the NBA (Never mind that Thomas Sowell has been around for years. Knowledge and Decisions suits me fine as a secular bible. I'll also pass over the fact that there is nothing admirable about being a politican, much less being a certain color or other. But I digress). In any case, if we must accept that the symbol has the property of muting some of the intergenerational bellyaching that's been going on since I was a kid, then I'm willing to celebrate it. Still, such symbolism does nothing for an ailing economy, a war, and an uncertain future--which the President has promised to clean up with the dirty mop of government. And that, friends, is unfortunate.
So please: get the stars out of your eyes and come back down to earth. We - you and me - have work to do. I promise to think about the symbolism of an Obama presidency if you promise to think about the self-delusion that empowers men to work miracles with other people's money.