I'm reluctant to write skeptically about the NYT's David Leonhardt--I owe him one, having failed to answer his reasonable response to a criticism of several years ago. (All in good time!) His contrast between Hillary Clinton's domestic policy approach ("narrowly tailored government policies, like focused tax cuts," relying on rational economic incentives) and Obama's (broader, "simpler" programs that acknowledge people don't act rationally) seems highly useful.
But I don't see how the great health care "mandates" debate fits this typology very well Isn't it Hillary who is proposing the broad, simple program: 'Everybody has to buy insurance!' And isn't this mandate at least somewhat similar to Obama's semi-mandatory ("opt out") employer-deduction savings plan in that it acknowledges people, if left to their own devices, won't do something that might in fact be good for them or at least for society,** even if given a seemingly sufficient incentive? Won't Obama need lots of little complex subsidies to enable people to afford the insurance he won't require them to buy? And if he actually adds a penalty for those who buy insurance later, when they get sick, isn't he relying on the "idea that people respond rationally to financial incentives"?
That said, Leonhardt does make Hillary's vision seem dreary ("She has proposed new tax credits for savings, tuition, health care, elder care and renewable energy use. ...") Her husband's best moments as president weren't his little targeted tax breaks but his big, simple notions: "Make Work Pay," "End Welfare As We Know It," "Save Social Security First." ...
Update: Yglesias makes a similar point. ...
**--You could argue that mandating health insurance is designed to get young, healthy people to do something that might not really be in their rational economic self-interest, namely pay for health insurance they probably won't need. But you could also argue that the social interest in having a decent rate of savings is greater than the interest in any poor individual in putting aside money he or she could really use now. My college professor, Stephen Marglin, speculated that individuals would never voluntarily save enough to meet a society's investment needs. If I remember right either the savings had to be extracted artificially (e.g. involuntarily) or else the economic growth had to be so rapid that individuals saved simply because it took them a while to learn how to spend all their money. ... 1:02 A.M.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
On Samizdata, Paul Marks offers a fairly common defense of Fred Thompson:
Fred Thompson is in the middle of a 40 town Iowa tour - so he is hardly lazy. And he does go on television shows - thus dealing with critics, such as myself, who attacked him for not going on enough shows. But what sort of person would enjoy all this?
I dunno. Sounds kinda fun to me! Being rushed from interview to interview, where reporters (who may not know a whole lot less about government than you do) hang on your every nuance, jot down each pensee? Waging an underdog campaign against unfair, flimsy media expectations? Occupying the center of attention wherever you go? Having an eager staff devoted to making you, you, you look good. Sounds like a the world's greatest book tour, only better. You don't need an emperor's ego to enjoy that sort of thing, or even a blogger's ego. A normal attorney's or reporter's or college professor's ego should do. ... There may be reasons why sane people are discouraged from running for president--e.g., fundraising, holding lower office--but the horrible experience of campaigning in Iowa for a month wouldn't seem to be among them. ... [via Instapundit] 10:17 P.M.