June 2012

Two facts should be noted about this week’s healthcare ruling. The Supreme Court pronounced ‘Obamacare’ constitutional and the majority of Americans don’t like it. One tweeter was so incensed with the imposition of “socialized” healthcare, he threatened to move to Canada.

But do Americans really dislike ‘Obamacare’? Not really. If asked about each provision – such as allowing children to stay on their parents plans until 26, disallowing annual or lifetime caps on coverage, disallowing rejection for prior or existing conditions and forbidding insurance companies from cancelling policies if people get sick – then people are overwhelmingly in favor.

Even the most contentious piece of the legislation, the “individual mandate” finds support when people realize that that it is the insured who currently pay for the treatment of the uninsured.

This illuminates a quirk of human nature – how people feel about something in its entirety is not necessarily the sum of their feelings about its pieces.

America is described as a ‘center-right’ nation – but only because that is how people describe themselves. If you factor in social security, medicare, medicaid, SNAP and all the other social programs America is solidly middle of the road – maybe even left-of-center.

Ask these self-professed conservatives if they would want a truly conservative nation – one without these social programs – and the answer would be a resounding no. Just ask the Tea Party supporter who – in reaction to Obamacare – brandished a sign saying: “Goverment Keep yore Hands of my Medicare” (spelling by sign writer).

How Americans view themselves is often contradicted by their actions. Americans consider themselves religious – 89% say believe in God. But only 50% go to church.

Americans say they are patriots. But very few volunteer for military service. Conservatives even lobby for tax cuts in time of war. Let’s call it arm-chair patriotism.

Ask most people what they consider a fundamental American value and they might well say individual liberties – the freedom to do what we wish – keeping government off our back. But many support legislation like the “US Patriot Act” – which in the name of anti-terrorism – enhances the ability of the government to spy on its citizens.

Many celebrate the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. Before they should consider that Awlaki – although he was a terrorist and vocal in instigating violence against the US – was an American-born citizen, who was not even charged with a crime, or even given the benefit of judicial review.

Awlaki was a bad man – but do supporters of individual liberty really want to establish the precedent that Americans can be killed on just the President’s say so?

Many conservatives have decided that liberty is what they say it is and is only available to those people who fit the right profile. How else do you explain the passion to deny gays the right to marriage?

Lack of self-knowledge comes from our fantasy lives. Ask people about themselves and they will tend to overestimate their height and underestimate their weight. They think  people of the same age look older than themselves.

This tendency to overrate themselves even has a name – illusory superiority – also known as the “Lake Wobegon Effect”, from Garrison Keillor’s fictional town, “Where all the children are above average”. Studies consistently show that a significant majority of people will, in fact, believe themselves to be above average intelligence.

Actually, there is an exception to illusory superiority – you might call it illusory inferiority. While people with low and average IQs tend to overestimate their IQ, but people with high IQs tend to underestimate their IQ.

Studies show that the better someone rated his job performance the lower his performance was rated by his peers and boss, while high performers conversely underrate themselves.

The reason for this inability to rate ourselves well is well summed up by Alexander Pope’s aphorism: “A little learning is a dangerous thing” now updated in the expression: “He knew just enough to be dangerous”. At the other end of the scale you have: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know”

Which brings us back to ‘Obamacare’. People who are against it generally cannot even tell you what’s in it and when it takes effect. They might tell you that it is too expensive, but when pinned down to specifics they cannot tell you why.

This ignorance is in large part because of the Administration’s failure to make a compelling case for their initiative, leaving most people confused about what’s in it

The President has the wind in his sails now. But he faces a committed opposition. If Obama wants to win in November he had better start explaining or a little learning will prove very dangerous for him.




The American Enterprise Institute ignores inconvenient facts – promotes irrelevant ones

June 28, 2012

The American Enterprise Institutes (AEI) – a group at the conservative end of the political spectrum – ‘proves’ that economic inequality among Americans has not widened over the years. Which is a remarkable feat considering that every survey of wealth and income shows that economic gap between the rich and poor is the widest it has been since […]

Read the full article →

The Supreme Court on Corporate Speech, Immigration and 14 Year-old Murderers.

June 25, 2012

THE SUPREME COURT AND FREE SPEECH Most people – and certainly the media’s talking heads – are giving the majority of their attention to the decision involving Arizona’s immigration law. But far more important for the political process and individual speech is the decision by the Court to summarily overturn Montana’s Supreme Court decision to limit […]

Read the full article →

A few thoughts on gay marriage

June 23, 2012

Opponents of gay marriage have presented many arguments to support their position. At first glance, these arguments may appear to have merit. But given more scrutiny, they fall apart. Here are some of the favorites. PETS AND FARM ANIMALS Foes of gay marriage are fond of the slippery slope argument. In this case, the claim is […]

Read the full article →

Discrimination is ugly and out of date.

June 22, 2012

Discrimination is fundamental to humans. Fortunately, so is getting past it. Otherwise we would still be marginalizing Americans of Irish, Jewish, Italian, Catholic, Chinese, Middle European, German, Japanese, Indian and African descent. (Unhappily there will always be individual bigots, I am talking about institutional and societal discrimination). We are moving past discrimination, in large part, because apocalyptic […]

Read the full article →

Does our criminal justice system give us value for money? – Part 2 – The effect of business and unions.

June 19, 2012

In a previous post I wrote of how the need to appear to be tough on crime drove politicians to make wasteful decisions. This post considers the effect of the increasing privatization of public business – in this case private jails. It used to be that the institutions such as the military did almost everything “in-house”. But as the […]

Read the full article →

Does our criminal justice system give us value for money?

June 19, 2012

Capitalism is the economic system that allocates scarce resources by market forces or as Adam Smith called it, the “invisible hand”. It has proven a better arbiter of utility than planned systems – such as communism. Free market supporters argue that government allocates resources inefficiently – and when it comes to our criminal justice system […]

Read the full article →

Fundamental ignorance – mistaking opinion for science.

June 13, 2012

How many people know who was the first Secretary of State? Or the capital of Finland? Or the six categories the Nobel Prizes are awarded in? Who knows  – but not as many as should. But as bad as our lack of knowledge  is – it is our inability to think; our inability to let […]

Read the full article →

Fiscal fantasies

June 11, 2012

In the run up to the Presidential election many claims have been – and will be – made about the government’s role in the economy – most of them at best misleading and at worst outright lies. Here’s a few of the most eggregious Governments and recessions Let’s understand one thing – the government has […]

Read the full article →