Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

The blog war rages on: Paglia, Palin, and now Krugman’s in the mix

Tom’s riposte to my jab, for all of his self-deprecation, offered some very good points. He starts with:

If you won’t accuse her of intellectual dishonesty, can we at least agree that there’s a staggering display of cognitive dissonance going on? And no, this isn’t an argument, but I don’t really want to think about defenses of Sarah Palin anymore. They just baffle the shit out of me.

So that’s where I’ll start too (unfortunately entailing continued meditations on Palin… skip it if you want). For context on the rest of the conversation, click the linx.  My response…



Cognitive dissonance works from an outsider’s perspective, but I think it’s a dissonance that she’s deaf to, and so I might be more inclined to call it a shortfall in recognizing the total abscess of meaning that is Palin’s self-presentation. Parenthetically, my roommate noted yesterday with reference to all of the speculation, that there’s no evidence at all to suggest she would be anything but a terrible talk show host. Huckabee is both likeable, witty, and grounded in a particular position which he seems to understand very well. Palin, as her spontaneous self, is none of those things.

An alternative hypothesis is that she’s self-consciously using Palin instrumentally (how Kant would weep!) to advance her line because she provides a unique opportunity; she provokes polite liberal politically correct society to vindictiveness like no other. This would account for why all of her praise of Palin seems to be for what she’s not. She’s just not interested in defending what Palin is. Interestingly, this hypothesis would suggest that Paglia’s behaviour towards Palin is, far from genuinely reverential, actually deeply disrespectful. It would suggest that to Paglia she’s a useful idiot.

Anyway, if this hypothesis is correct I think the charge of cognitive dissonance falls short. As for intellectual dishonesty, you could frame it that way, though since her blows are all thrown unabashedly at the norms of political correctness (unmasked, as she sees it, in their encounters with Palin, exposing their underlying petty savagery), and since her arguments against it are independent of Palin, I think to throw the whole enterprise out for intellectual dishonesty would lose many a proverbial baby. Or whatever.

On your charge of cherry picking. Though I see how you could think so, I respectfully take issue. Following your lead, here’s the whole passage (bold text indicates the section I originally quoted):

Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.

After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.

And even if we didn’t have this international evidence to reassure us, a look at the U.S. numbers makes it clear that insuring the uninsured shouldn’t cost all that much, for two reasons.

First, the uninsured are disproportionately young adults, whose medical costs tend to be relatively low. The big spending is mainly on the elderly, who are already covered by Medicare.

Second, even now the uninsured receive a considerable (though inadequate) amount of “uncompensated” care, whose costs are passed on to the rest of the population. So the net cost of giving the uninsured explicit coverage is substantially less than it might seem.

To which you said:

And then he goes on to list those two reasons. It is, in short, an argument. I can’t speak to the nitty-gritty of the solvency of the Canadian healthcare system, but I think the statement that “universal insurance should be affordable” IS pretty much a given. Krugman expects his readers to have a basic grasp of the facts on the ground, as he’s writing for the NYT, not the Nat’l Enquirer. Every economist I’ve read on the healthcare debate agrees (granted, I read crazy left-wing economists, so what do I know?) But, I don’t know, if you think about the US budget, and where money gets spent, we could slash the shit out of defense, still spend double what the rest of the advanced nations do, and insure the shit out of everybody. I think it’s only if we ignore the reality of where our tax dollars already go that we get stuck on ways to fund “affordable” healthcare.

I agree with you that Krugman, on his own terms, makes an argument for why universal health care should be affordable (something that, by the by, I also believe). But, I have a couple of issues with his rhetoric that I think stand : First, what I was taking issue with was the adverb. Eminence is pretty meaningless as he’s using it, but I take him to be wanting to express that it can be “really” affordable. [UPDATE: Having followed the health debate in Canada for as long as I’ve been politically interested, the trajectory of Canada’s healthcare system can only be called “eminently affordable” when held up in comparison with the proposterous one that currently exists in the US.]

Second, he claims that all “serious health economists” know this. I don’t think that’s true… at least not  true once you venture out from Krugman’s terms to what conservative health economists understand a worthwhile universal health care system to be (see Megan McArdle, Posner, and Mankiw for some good aggregatations of fiscally conservative thought on health care reform). [UPDATE: These thinkers don’t look at those who are uninsured and say “it would be cheap to bring them onto the boat.” They look at Medicare/aid and see one of the least efficient resource allocating bureaucracies in the world (without offering universal care, as is mentioned frequently by Krugman, those two programs cost the American people approximately twice as much per-capita as the universal systems of other developed countries.] Posner lays out a conservative framework for understanding health reform as follows:

the duel

The Duel by Eugene Field

There are two ways to reduce the aggregate cost of health care, if this is considered a worthy objective, as I am inclined to doubt [he supports this doubt with a protracted argument earlier in the post]. One would be to ration demand. If the supply curve for health care is upward sloping, as undoubtedly it is, then capping demand would result in lower prices by forcing the market down the supply curve. But rationing demand would be fiercely resisted by patients, for obvious reasons. The second way to reduce aggregate health costs would be to force down the price of treatment by exercise of the government’s potential monopsony power. Suppose all doctors were employed by the government. Then their wages would be low because if you wanted to be a doctor, as many people do, you would not have any alternative to accepting the government’s wage. Of course the quality of care would decline. Or suppose (and this the tendency toward which some of the current proposals are tending) that the government bought all the drugs that are produced, having forbidden the drug companies to sell to any other purchaser. Then the price of drugs would be much lower than it is today, but so would be the quality, since the incentives for innovation would be diminished by the lower price.

So fine, universal health care can be “eminently” affordable. But that’s not what the debate is about and Krugman knows it. The debate is whether quality universal health care can be affordable, which, in a system as huge as would be required for a country as huge as America, one could plausibly doubt. My point though is, that Krugman doesn’t address the serious counter claims. He just says “everybody thinks this” and then makes two uncontroversial claims that support his point (again without reference to how his opponents might interpret the significance of the same facts.) Such strategies are why Posner labels Krugman the gingham dog to Milton Friedman’s calico cat.

Again, I’m a huge fan of universal health care (and blogged my support here), but I’m a fan of it because I think—perhaps on faith—that the arguments for it can directly address the arguments against it on fair rhetorical ground—something Krugman sometimes does but, as in the case at issue, sometimes doesn’t. The whole MacNamara “Answer the question you wish you were asked rather than the question you were asked” thing is easy to fall into (I’ve fallen into it a lot, and probably in a couple of places in this debate) and absolutely pervasive. But I hate it, and find it to be more clearly intellectually dishonest, oriented towards appealing not to people’s reason, but to pushing people, despite their independent reason, in the direction you want them to go. To me it’s worse for being more insidious than Paglia’s pugilism.

I found the rest of your post uncontroversial; in other words, I agree with you. Incidentally, Paglia <3<3<3 the existentialists. Especially de Beauvoir.

Hope your head is doing okay.

Forever yours,



One Response to “The blog war rages on: Paglia, Palin, and now Krugman’s in the mix”

  1. […] feeling slightly guilty about the lateness of my response to Discursor.  You can read his thoughts here.  You can probably find the whole damn war from that link.  So away we go.  Look […]

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