War of Words on Health Care Reform


Washington Wire breaks down lists of words which were found to work better with focus groups to sell health care reform. It is not clear whether this lists remains relevant at this point in the debate and to what degree the Obama administration is even following these guides, but they do raise some questions.

Public is found to be a better word than government. Somehow I doubt that conservatives who have a knee jerk opposition to any government plan would feel any better about something called public. This is seen in their opposition to the public option, which is indistinguishable from their expected reaction to a government run option.

Choice and control is seen as preferable to competition. I guess this means that Hillary Clinton’s idea of managed competition is also out.

I have no idea why prevention is seen as good but wellness is seen as bad or why rules are better than regulations.

A choice of public and private plans is ok to say but Medicare for all is not. On one level this makes sense as Obama has rejected a single payer system such as Medicare for all. It would seem that it makes sense to avoid discussing a plan which differs so much from what is being advocated, but maybe not. Medicare is so popular that perhaps people would go along with such a description. After all, even some Republicans have taken up defending Medicare recently, contradicting their earlier views.

A Libertarian Argument For The Bailouts

As with all political labels, libertarianism includes a wide variety of views. While many libertarians automatically believe any government action is bad (and often cherry pick the facts to defend their view), some are more open to reality and do see exceptions where government action is necessary. Megan McArdle provides an example. She gives a number of arguments against the bailouts but concludes, “That said, they were probably the best thing we could have done.  If you disagree, you need to sketch out a plausible alternative scenario.” She turns to Tyler Cowen to consider the alternative:

Without the bailouts we would have had many more failed banks, very strong deflationary pressures, a stronger seize-up in credit markets than what we had, and a climate of sheer political and economic panic, leading to greater pressures for bad state interventions than what we now see.  Milton Friedman understood all this quite well, which is why argued bailouts would have been a good idea in the 1929-1931 period.

(By the way, some libertarians like to pretend that Milton Friedman blames the Fed for “contracting” the money supply by one-third in that period but in reality Friedman blames the Fed for having let the money supply fall by one-third and not having run a bank bailout.)

If you are a libertarian, is not our current course more favorable for liberty than would have been a repeat of 1929-1931?  If not, I would be curious to hear your counterfactual version of how matters would have proceeded, without the financial bailouts.  Is it that you think the regional banks would have raised the financing to pick up the entire bag and keep the banking system afloat?  Or is it that natural market forces would have somehow avoided a wrenching surprise deflation?  Or do you think the authorities for some reason would have not nationalized the major banks?  Please let us know.

Maybe you think that the bailouts will have disastrous long-run consequences.  And maybe they will, I worry about this too.  But if anyone should know that modern politics can only stand so much short-run panic, it is libertarians and fans of Bryan Caplan’s book.  If we had not done the bailouts we did, we would, within a few months’ or weeks’ time have received a much worse and costlier bailout run by Congress and Nancy Pelosi.  How does that sound?

I’ve often noted the influence of Chicago school economics on Obama in response to conservative claims that he is a socialist. Conservatives and libertarians have often claimed that his actions upon taking office demonstrate support for socialism, ignoring his need to respond to a crisis. From Cowen’s post we see that even Milton Friedman fell in the camp of believing that strict libertarian opposition to all government action is not always the best policy and that action of this nature was needed in a crisis.

Pakistan’s Taliban Possibly Crumbling In Power Dispute

McClatchy reports that the killing of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. missile strike earlier this month might be causing the Taliban to crumble:

Pakistan’s extremist Taliban movement is badly divided over who should be its new leader, and analysts and local tribesmen say the al Qaida-linked group may be in danger of crumbling.

A wave of defections, surrenders, arrests and bloody infighting has severely weakened the movement since its founder, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed Aug. 5 in a U.S. missile strike. The announcement this weekend that Hakimullah Mehsud, a 28-year-old with a reputation as a hothead, would succeed him is likely to further widen the split.

More on the significance of this:

Any breakdown in the Pakistan Taliban is likely to have impact on both U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and al Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to have taken refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Baitullah Mehsud had turned the focus of his movement from sending fighters into Afghanistan to fight U.S. and NATO forces to launching attacks within his own country. A new head of the Pakistan Taliban could reverse that, once again sending hundreds of fighters into Afghanistan. A weakened Taliban would be less able to provide protection for bin Laden.