Belmont Club

"We have to make judgments very fast"

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Arlen Specter makes the case for hurrying up consideration of health care “reform”. I argued in an earlier post that “the information required to describe a system is proportional to the complexity of the undertaking. While the design for a rowboat can be set down on a single sheet of paper, describing the battleship New Jersey required a 175 tons of blueprints”. With a system as complex as health care delivery there’s simply no way to glide over the details. Hence, Specter’s argument about being able to make fast judgments about a complex system make no sense unless they are simply judging the political outcomes of their deliberations as opposed to the actual substantive outcomes of the system they’re designing. That makes things simple. It also makes the criteria for judging the bill wrong.


In the short term politicians may look at the deal-making aspect of legislation rather than the law itself. Because that is what pertains to them. This is an incentives problem. In fact it is our old friend the agent-principal problem again. If Specter and the Senate were a organizing a company they would do a due diligence check much more thoroughly than they appear to be doing with this landmark health care “reform”. For something that its proponents claim is so critical to get right there is a remarkable casualness about the way the decision is being approached. And that I think is because the provisions are being parsed, not so much through the prism of public policy analysis, but in the light of the question: “what’s in it for us?”


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