The Democrats are Democrats

Is Megan McArdle actually surprised that no one mentioned Obamacare at the debates? Or is this rhetorical surprise?

The Affordable Care Act barely came up. What candidates wanted to talk about was Medicare-for-all.

That is nothing short of extraordinary. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the biggest entitlement expansion, and the most significant health-care reform, since the 1960s. You’d think Democrats would be jostling to claim that mantle for themselves. Instead it was left in a corner, gathering dust, while the candidates moved on to the fashion of the moment.

There are those of us toddler-eating, goose-stepping monsters who argued way the hell back in 2010 that this was the point all along; that the ACA was just the camel’s nose to get the government in the business of managing health-care (anyone out there who wants to argue that the real camel’s nose was Medicare and Medicaid, nolo contendre). It was destined to fail, designed to fail, so that the next Democratic President could give the ratchet another turn, so that the Republicans could jump up and down about it, and then do nothing, so that the next Democratic President could give us a European-style National Health Service.

McArdle is educated enough to have heard of the Cloward-Pliven Strategy.  This would appear to be a variant of that. It’s that old socialist tactic, “the worse, the better”, which is why the Democrats were furious this week at having to vote funds for migrants at the border. They don’t want migrants at the border to be reasonably cared-for. They want concentration camps. They want dead children in the Rio Grande. Because what they really want is open-borders with concomitant demographic shift that earns them the majority they need to rule. And the way to get that is to present these people as saintly victims, martyrs of our hatred, all the time. Alexandra Occasio-Cortez isn’t stupid; she knows what she wants and makes the moves necessary to get it. People who take her public statements at face-value, as if she was different from any other kind of politician, those are the stupid ones.

And the same applies to Marianne Williamson, the “beautiful lunatic”, whom Stacy McCain has been giving the George McGovern treatment (Stacy might have a wish to be the Hunter Thompson of his generation). I’m not in the business of making predictions, but when Williamson said this:

I tell you one thing, it’s really nice if we have all these plans, but if you think we beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming. Because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying, “Make America Great Again.”

My response is:

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Let’s be real here a second. Nobody cares about politicians’ plans. Politician’s plans are like their rectums; they each have one, and they all stink. Mitt Romney had a 47-point plan to fix all the things. Nobody wanted anything to do with it. They wanted to re-elect Hope and Change instead.

Having a Plan is political shorthand for “I know what I’m talking about and am a serious person. I’m smart and stuff.” Which is not a bad position to be in, but having an idea that the average voter can relate to and respond to is a better one. “Build a Wall” resonates in a way that “My plan calls for tweaking the QZM, Snorfhonkling the BLYC, and Adding a new Part to Medicare” simply does not.

So Marianne Williamson is not as dumb as you might think. I don’t know that she actually has an idea that will resonate with the Democratic base yet, but if she gets one, watch out. The Democrats are Democrats.

When You Need the Tropes – Game of Thrones Edition

I spent a day angry about the Game of Thrones finale. I won’t go into the why, because I’m going to write something larger on that topic later on. Put me in the group of fans that found it highly unsatisfying and leave it at that.

Many of those same people have been saying that the series has dropped off since they left the part that books covered (and really, before that. Season 5 was a mess – the Dorne plot was ridiculous).

The other complaint for fans of this saga is that we’ve been waiting for the next book for seven-and-a-half years (or as I like to call it, the entirety of my eldest child’s lifetime). And since Martin hasn’t given us anything like a meaningful update in at least half that time, we’ve gone through cycles of denial and bargaining and anger and are coming to accept that we may never see the end.

And Megan McArdle has the explanation for that.

In trying to create a world where anything could happen to anyone at any time, he may also have created expectations that could never be fulfilled. We loved surprises such as the carnage of the Red Wedding, because that made the whole thing more believable. But in the end, a good story must deliver something that reality rarely does: a clean narrative arc.

Which meant that despite the illusion that anything could happen, most plausible things actually couldn’t. One way or another, the Starks had to win the battle for humanity, and Westeros, because otherwise why did we spend all those years following them around? Making that feel realistic in a world that isn’t governed by cosmic justice is, well, a heroic task.

You can only deconstruct the tropes of fantasy so far before it becomes an exercise in misery porn. Which is what HBO series tend to trade in (Chernobyl anyone?), but which is not the reason fantasy epics exist. You tweak the tropes to update the genre, not to destroy it.

Too many people would rather it be destroyed because of their own cultural-warfare reasons. It’s enough to make a body disinterested in what the establishment offers us for entertainment.

Journalism is Dying Because It’s Not Free

Been a while since I came across a Megan McArdle piece I thought worth passing on, but this one is it.

This past week the axe fell in the newsroom, most notably at BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, but also…

newspaper chain Gannett swung the ax through several of its publications this week, including the Indianapolis Star, the Tennessean and the Arizona Republic.

…Fifteen years have been spent in a fruitless search for a viable business model that will support the kind of journalism the country expects — and, no, conservatives, I’m not talking about “the liberal media.” I’m talking about media organizations that pour resources into informing the public about the everyday, noncontroversial stuff that makes up the bulk of media content.

And why? Because people don’t, as a rule, want to pay for online content. They want to pay to have a thing. An e-book is a thing. A movie is a thing. A copy of a newspaper is a thing. The internet is a medium I access with a device. An online article lacks the same level of thingness.

If I’m browsing, and I click a link, and I hit a paywall, do I subscribe, before I know if the article is worth reading? No. I click away, and go read something that is free. Because anyone can access the internet, and anyone can put something there. That’s what newspapers are competing with. And losing.

A few salient points:

It’s telling that the conservative publications that were supposed to correct the flaws of mainstream media have instead often ended up in a symbiotic relationship with it. Instead of setting up comprehensive reporting operations of their own, they spend much of their time reacting to reporting done by mainstream outlets. Reporting is obscenely expensive, and no one — conservative, liberal or in between — has figured out how to fund it on shrinking advertising dollars.

One might go so far as to say that there isn’t any such thing as conservative media – there is only a conservative critique of media. This is a failure, but also an opportunity for someone on the right willing to build a media empire that pays for itself, that produces it’s own news, that shifts narratives and Overton Windows in the starboard direction. The print/digital version of Fox News doesn’t yet exist.

This of course raises questions about why it doesn’t exist, and what the sam-scratch all those “conservative” think-tanks are spending their money on. I think it’s fair to say that the National Review era of conservative media has passed – it has done it’s work, and it’s time for it to go. The Washington Free Beacon is probably more valuable.

Those links go to reporting subsidized somewhat by digital ads but mostly by print circulations and speculative investments from outside the industry. As the journalism business burns through the last of those subsidies, large swaths of the free Internet are going to be paywalled off, and readers and journalists alike will have to learn to think of news as their parents did: as something you pay for, or do without.

The last sentence underlines the deeper problem: to what extent to I actually need “news”? Am I visibly suffering for not reading the Washington Post’s day-by-day reportage? Am I any less happy for not having a soulless corporation rhetorically manipulating my worldview?

Until I find a news publication I can trust to keep my honestly informed, I have no need to spend money on it. To be ignorant is a misfortune, to be misinformed is a curse.

McArdle: Corruption is not an Indictment of Global Capitalism

In the first place, the countries are hardly exemplars of the free market:

With the notable exception of Iceland, these are not countries I would describe as “capitalist”: Russia, Pakistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Egypt.  They’re countries where kleptocratic government officials amass money not through commerce, but through quasi-legal extortion, or siphoning off the till. This is an activity that has gone on long before capitalism, and probably before there was money.

If capitalism as an ideology means anything except as a buzzword to denounce the free market, it means a government limited in scope and strongly dedicated to the rule of law. Russia is not that. Russia is something else.

This isn’t me pulling a No True Scotsman. This is describing what an ideology is and is not. A government in which a President and his government extort money and distort the market is precisely the opposite of what Adam Smith had in mind. It is a government in which leaders are granted special powers because they are they exemplars of the people and the only guaruntors of justice. The word for that is monarchy, and however much the Presidents of the world where blue suits and hold elections they generally act as monarchs or dictators. That is what the intellectual revolt of the 18th century was tilting against.

This is also fun:

A few weeks back, I was the designated capitalist punching bag on a panel well attended by socialists. A woman in global development stood up and delivered a heartfelt rebuttal to my arguments on the grounds that places like Saudi Arabia had immense and wild excess, while their near neighbors had desperate poverty. This, she said, was something that we needed to fix.

That discussion rapidly went south when I asked her how many troops she wished to commit to this project.

I being to wonder if they really intend to exercise power to fix these things or if they just like talking about all the problems they want to rally us to fix.
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Dealing with Zombie Debt

Megan McArdle, illuminating a very real issue:

Very old debts are very difficult to collect, because they disappear from credit reports after seven years, and after a state’s statute of limitation on debt collections expires, the collector can’t even sue. So these wily collectors either hope that the debtor feels bad about being a deadbeat and wants to clear his good name . . . or that he doesn’t know the law. And when hope fails, collectors frequently resort to less savory tactics such as threatening to sue (legal), threatening to have you arrested (it may be legal to make the threat, but they can’t actually make good on it) or impersonating a law enforcement officer who is going to come arrest you (very, very, very illegal).

I had this happen to me about seven years ago: some clown with a very suspicious accent demanding that I pay a debt they claimed I owed the phone company at my last apartment in Pennsylvania. I knew it was preposterous, because when I moved from Pennsylvania I made a determined effort to clear all debts that I had compiled, and even put a note in my Quicken of the “last phone bill” I paid. These fools cared not one wit: They had bought debt that had my name attached to it, they didn’t know any more about it than that, and they were going to call me and harass me over the phone until I gave in.

They did not know who they were dealing with. I told them to go ahead and sue me countless times. They called back. I dealt with them politely. They called back. I told them to perform acts physically impossible and morally heinous. They called back. What they refused to do was provide one solitary piece of evidence that I owed anybody anything.

Finally, I contacted my local Federal Trade Commission office. The gentleman there pointed me in the direction of a piece of legal boiler plate demanding validation of the debt and cessation of contact until debt was validated. I sent it via certified mail so they could not deny they had received it. The next time they called I told them I had sent that letter and would not say anything further on the phone.

A few days later I received a note from them claiming they had passed the imaginary debt on to some other set of sharpies who never contacted me.

Don’t let the bastards bully you.

Why Government Bureaucracies are Un-Fixable

Megan McArdle gets the nature of the problem, in a very sensible article on the VA.

  1. You can’t fire government bureaucrats – especially not en masse, so matter what you do, old patterns re-emerge.
  2. Every “reform” just adds a new set of directives and rules without trimming or significantly changing the old ones.

What that means in plain English is that when you put reforms in place, you can’t just rip out the stuff that’s not working and do something different. What you’re actually reforming is the process, and because many of the current elements of the process are functionally mandated by other government rules, or court rulings, or bits of legislation that your reform effort didn’t amend, you have to layer your reform on top of the system you wanted to reform, rather than in place of it. Many of your reforms simply stack another layer of bureaucracy on top of the bureaucracy that was already causing problems. This is a problem that CEOs don’t face, unless they’re in some heavily regulated business such as banking or oil refining.

Most important, it is easier to change some parts of the system than others, and much easier to give something than to take something away. So it was relatively easy for Barack Obama to tell the VA that they had to do more to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. It seems to have been very hard to change the claims process to make it move faster or to hire more staff to help things move more quickly. The result was an even bigger backlog — and, since the reforms commanded the staff to move more patients, more quickly, the temptation to “juke the stats” to make the waiting lists appear shorter than they were.

So, while fully intending to make the VA work better, the Administration made it even worse.  And to a certain extent, this isn’t Obama’s fault. It’s not a question of having people who care more or are smarter – this is how bureaucracy functions. George W. Bush made a serious effort to make the VA work better, too. It did not.

So if every good-faith effort to fix a bureaucratic system just makes the thing more complex and counterproductive (Hi, No Child Left Behind!), what is to be done?

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Megan McArdle Discovers the Problem with A Government-Instituted Health Exchange:

Politicians were making decisions about it:

So no, this is not a good project undone by Republican “sabotage,” as I saw suggested on Twitter this morning. It’s a potentially good IT project undone by system design and deadlines chosen for political reasons, rather than feasibility. What we’ve been through in the last week, I’d argue, is the inevitable result.

bygeorge

 

This is a fair recitation of Patrick’s Iron Law of Politics #1: What is done by politicians is done for political reasons to achieve a political end. Judging anything politicians do on any standard other than political expediency – moral rectitude, or economic success – is an exercise in folly.  It doesn’t surprise me to see McArdle, who’s an astute observer, discover this truth.

The speed with which she loses it, on the other hand…

That does not mean that it will never work. We shouldn’t rule that out — there are nightmare stories of databases in Britain’s National Health Service and Canada’s criminal justice system, which had to be junked after going wildly over budget. But while I assume that’s possible in this case, I don’t think it’s very likely. This system is the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s biggest legislative achievement. The administration is going to try very hard to make it work over the next few months, and I assume that at some point — in a few weeks, or a few months — it will succeed.

Dammit+And+there+it+goes

Her premise, that Obama will definitely get super-serious on this health-care thing now, seems reasonable, because one can argue an actual political need for it. But there isn’t. Fixing ObamaCare might have some political dividends, but it’s far from  the expedient thing to do. The expedient thing to do is what the White House is currently doing, through its surrogates in the palace-guard media: blaming Republicans. An IT project may succeed or fail: getting compliant journalists to bleat denunciations of the wreckers and saboteurs who failed to support the New Order pays out pretty regularly. Government programs don’t need success to survive; they only need a scapegoat:

A Ph.D. economist, Sowell describes the moral narcissism at the root of the liberal worldview — they support bad policies because doing so makes them feel good about themselves. Do these policies actually help the people they’re supposed to help? It doesn’t matter, Sowell explains in Chapter 4, “The Irrelevance of Evidence.”

What matters to liberals is the sense of virtue by proxy they derive by espousing the cause of helpless victims allegedly oppressed by evil greedy Republicans. What matters to liberals is their feeling that they’re “doing something” to advance their own good intentions.

I would have thought that, given how much of McArdle’s piece is devoted to refuting the meme that Republicans sabotaged Obamacare (by not setting up the state exchanges, et al.), that she would have understood that the lackadaisical rollout of Obamacare was going to be followed by an equally lackadaisical repair effort. The longer this mess goes on,  the more Obama can grandstand against the GOP for fighting it. The question of whether the mess should have been enacted into law in the fist place?

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