Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tail-End Thinking (or: How to Speak from One's Ass)

Atrios, as usual, gave the concise version of something I've wanted to say for awhile:
The fact that some people failed to have "foresight" does not mean that those who did were only correct in "hindsight."

He was referring to a post by The Atlantic's newest blog joke, Megan McArdle (formerly known as Jane Galt). In that post, McArdle suggests it's only in hindsight that we can attack Giuliani's savvy decision to house New York's emergency command center in a known terrorist target, saying:
In retrospect, of course, it was dumb. But hindsight bias distorts our perceptions.

And yes, for poor Megan, it's only hindsight that tells her that putting an emergency command center in a known terrorist target is a dumb idea. But I doubt she really believes that at all. More likely, she's just looking for some rationalization for defending Giuliani and this is the best she can come up with. And if she disliked Giuliani, she'd be joining in with the rest of us in condemning Rudy for his egotistical blunder. It all just comes down to whichever conclusion she needed to justify.

As I commented at her site:
And the need for monogrammed towels there was...in case he handed one to someone to mop up blood and they wanted to remember who to give it back to?

And the cigar humidor, no doubt, must have been in case a pregnant lady gave birth while trapped in the bunker and the father wanted to celebrate.

Rudy thinks of everything!

Indeed he does.


And speaking of rationalizations, I first encountered Megan's ability to reverse-engineer thought processes last night, after Atrios linked to her attack on single-payer insurance at her old blog, in which she insists that it's unfair to expect healthy people to finance the mistakes of people irresponsible enough to get old and sick.

Two choice quotes:
Moreover, as a class, the old and sick have some culpability in their ill health.

As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy.

Ah, to be old and sick. I can't wait! But as I mentioned above, I doubt she believes any of this. She has her conclusion, that single-payer insurance is a bad idea, and then reverse-engineered that conclusion to try to find some justification for why it's true. Of course, her primary breakthrough seems to be that she relabeled single-payer insurance a "tax", and as a libertarian, the rest of it just falls into place.

And it's entirely pathetic and makes absolutely no sense at all. Because first off, all insurance is premised on the idea that people who don't need it will finance the people who do need it to such an extent that the insurance can continue to be provided, and for for-profit companies, can actually make enough extra money to give to their owners. So for health insurance, it's always the idea that the healthy will pay for the sick. That isn't some flaw in taxpayer funded insurance. That's the entire premise of insurance! That's why health insurance companies strive as much as possible to get sick people off their plans and to only sign-up the people who don't need it.

But...that's not really the case for taxpayer-funded insurance. For taxpayer-funded insurance, it's high income people who finance it for people who can't afford it. And those high income people might very well be the people who need it the most. In fact, while I don't have any numbers offhand to back me up, I say without any doubt that there is a direct relationship that the more you pay in taxes, the more likely you'll need insurance; until you retire, after which you've already paid so much into the system that you're just getting back what you paid.

And so she's got her dynamic entirely wrong. For as much as she tries to suggest that rich old people are taking advantage of young people, those rich old people are likely to be paying more in taxes than the young people. It's only the poor old people with little income that will really gain any benefit from this; which is a group that she entirely ignores in her post. But seeing as how the government already provides these people an insurance they're relatively happy with, I can see why she didn't want to mention them.

Overall, her "reasoning" is based upon the weird presumptions that only the elderly need insurance, people only get sick due to their own mistakes, old people are rich enough to afford their own insurance, and the young pay more of this than the old. And all four of those ideas are entirely absurd, but are the only way her argument makes any sense.

The Young & Sick

And that's not to mention the inherent suggestion as if this is a one-time bill that young people are footing for old people, rather than an entire system that almost all young people will eventually require. And perhaps far sooner than they'd ever expect. Believe it or not, even young people can get horrible diseases that are beyond their control.

In reality, there's really only a small time period that people won't need insurance, because insurance isn't just a requirement for the elderly. It's also a requirement for the very young, as in our children. And for all you non-parents out there, let me tell you that kid medical bills are always high, even for healthy kids. So while Megan suggests that there is this "large group" being disadvantaged by those greedy old people, there really is only a very short time in our lives that most people don't require insurance; and it's best for them to have it anyway.

But as I said, Megan's got the dynamics of this all wrong. This really isn't a case of the old feasting like irresponsible vampires on the young. This is the poor and middle-class feasting on the rich. And as I said, it's more likely that the rich are going to be older people who need insurance. And so Megan's point is entirely absurd. She had her premise and desperately sought out any kind of justification for it. But it failed miserably on every level and exposed her to obvious criticism of being both mean and dumb.

But I don't think she's really mean. I don't think she really blames people for getting old or sick. That was dumbness talking all the way. And the dumbest thing she did was adopting her conclusion in the first place. The rest of it was just a futile attempt to justify that initial mistake. But I guess that can be said of everything conservatives do. It's not their reasoning that's at fault. It's that they chose to be conservatives in the first place.

Damn, this isn't even want I wanted to talk about in reference to the quote I gave on hindsight, but I just kept typing and now this took up the whole post. Oh well, I'll get back to my original point another time. It was about Iraq and had nothing to do with Megan McArdle.


NiP said...

One criticism: On McArdle's second post, you wrote: "...by the time you start having kids."

Not all of us intend to have children. Some of us are childfree.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Some of us are childfree.

Ahh, as far as you know. (Which is an even funnier line if you're female)

Well in that case, just think of the savings you get by not having other people's sick kids coughing on you and getting you sick. Or having to hear them always complaining at work about how sick their bratty kids are and how they don't have insurance to cover a doctor visit.