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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Consumer Friendly Government?

This past weekend I drove with my girlfriend to Pennsylvania to attend a wedding. My girlfriend's family is pretty interesting, a "goldmine" of literary material as I've said to her. Her dad and stepmom live in a house off the electrical grid (sometimes using a generator) up in Lagrange. They do their best to live apart from society. Her dad gets odd jobs welding and sells junk cars and trucks. Her stepmom works in an alternative health shop, and is a huge guru/advocate. Bring up medicine and you can count on her getting pretty worked up. (I had to bite my tongue because of my views on alternative medicine--for instance that it's dangerous.)

Since the health care debate--if you can call it that--has been foremost on my mind, I listened to several conversations throughout the two and half day trip and tried to see where people were coming from politically. At one point, I lost patience and began to spout off. Later, one of my girlfriend's distant relations thanked me for "the impromptu town hall." But her stepmom seemed a bit resentful.

In the 1200 pages of the House's health reform bill (why is everyone calling it Obama's?) there is somewhere a section that gives the government access to all of our bank accounts, from which they (bureaucrats) can make any sort of withdraw they deem necessary. This is what my girlfriend's stepmom had heard--though from where she wouldn't tell me. If this actually were in the bill it would be an even more egregious violation of the fourth amendment than the patriot act. But I'm not convinced I need to factcheck this. It's nonsense.

Why should the bill run to 1200 pages? A lot of resistance to the House reform bill (Obama's and the Senate's are still to come) comes from the notion that complexity is evidence of obfuscation. In fact, their complaints about government in general followed that theme. Why don't they tell us in plain terms what's in all these bills they pass?

Of course, you can watch C-SPAN twenty-four hours a day. And all the bills are on public record. It's not a matter of unavailability--it's just too hard to take it all in. The problem is that there is no way to govern 290 million people without the laws getting more complicated than any individual can track. The Founders knew that; that's why we elect representatives. The problem is that as the world gets increasingly more complicated, American education gets increasingly scattershot.

The health care bill is 1200 pages because setting up a public insurance option is complicated; restructuring insurance regulation is complicated; mandating and subsidizing insurance is complicated. Most of the stuff in those pages is procedural, as in, How do we implement this reform? not What will this reform be? That's why no one wants to read it. It's like computer programming code. Naturally, industry lobbyists and Republicans out to make sure Obama gets to his Waterloo appointment on time, have seized on this necessary complexity and exploited it to float fantasies about death panels and bank account mining.

So much of the impetus behind wanting to shrink or limit government derives from our inability to conceive of its various functions. Too bad we can't have some trustworthy average Joe come to our houses, sit down with us, and explain in layman's terms everything every bill does. Too bad politicians routinely exploit this state of affairs. But civilization, with a strong government, is still a helluva lot better option than returning to some state of nature. Sorry that government isn't very responsive to you and me personally, as individuals, but how the hell could it be?

Hunting and gathering or horticultural tribes may have laid back lives (though no health care) but we're kind of past the population threshold for those to be viable anymore. We can become a third world country, or we can try to wade into the complexity and make the government as good as we can.


caynazzo said...

The proper response to medical woo is Tim Minchin.

"Alt medicine has either not been proven to work or been proven not to work."


"Because throughout history every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic."

Dennis said...

caynazzo writes for a blog too:

caynazzo said...

Do I take that as a hint?

Anyway, not so much anymore. I was writing unpopular things about popular people and the blog wasn't mine to begin with.