Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why Government Is Incompetent: Fausta on The Obamanable Health Care Plan

In Roman history Fausta was the wife of Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. Constantine had Fausta executed by putting her in an overheated bath and forcing her to stay there. My wife always says one of her greatest fears is being permanently locked in a steam room.

In any case, today's Fausta is an excellent blogger who makes an important point (h/t Larwyn):

>During his speech at a National Press Club luncheon, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), questioned the point of lawmakers reading the health care bill.

“I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill,’” said Conyers.

“What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

When I worked in Albany for the ways and means committee in 1991 (I was a Democrat at that point) I noticed the same phenomenon. The members did not read the bills. Likewise, a perusal of Robert Caro's classic Powerbroker, which is about Robert Moses, describes how Moses repeatedly took advantage of this phenomenon to ram through laws that gave himself extraordinary powers that no one knew about until after the fact.

Rationality is a rare commodity. In the 1950s James March and Herbert Simon described managers as behaving in ways that are consistent with "bounded rationality". There are, they argued, cognitive limits on rationality. Earlier, Walter Lippmann argued that the public cannot possibly understand the political questions that it is asked to decide upon. Friedrich Hayek, the great Austrian economist, argued that because information is difficult to obtain, in the economy a simple signaling process is necessary. In a free economy that signal is price. No such signal exists in state dominated economies, which is why they are inefficient.

Supposedly, the political process is a matter of redistribution of wealth, who gets what, when and how, as Harold Lasswell put it. But a more important question is: who knows how to do it? The answer with respect to government is generally--"we don't know".

The process of political engagement is largely a smokescreen whereby special interests extract rents. This observation has been explored by economists such as Mancur Olson and George Stigler. The process of rent extraction by academic social democrats and their corporate clients has traditionally involved using the poor or working class as a ruse. De Jouvenal shows that this tactic goes back to the days of Septimius Severus and carried forward through the middle ages.

The health care plan is not a serious plan. Rather, it reflects the brokerage of corrupt special interests. How do I know this despite not having the slightest idea of what is in the plan, just like Mr. Conyers?

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