Second look at ObamaCare schizophrenia!
posted at 12:31 pm on August 6, 2009 by Karl
When the Wall Street Journal’s Jerry Seib wrote that “[s]omething about health care calls forth from the national psyche a deep, almost inexplicable schizophrenia,” it ran contrary to a summary of recent Gallup polling on healthcare reform. Nevertheless, it is possible to find polls suggesting that people are concerned about the healthcare system as a whole, even if they are satisfied with their health insurance and access to healthcare. However, this is not evidence of schizophrenia. The existence of contrary aggregate attitudes is not inexplicable. Indeed, it is common.
A classic example would be public opinion about the federal deficit. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that most Americans continue to want the federal government to focus on reducing the budget deficit, but opposed increasing taxes or cutting spending on government services, earned mockery across the political spectrum, from Allahpundit to Matt Yglesias, with the latter calling Americans “ill-informed and hypocritical.” However, as Brendan Nyhan pointed out:
Those numbers may seem “ill-informed and hypocritical,” but the problem is that we’re dealing with aggregate data (this is what is known as an ecological inference problem). We can’t draw any strong conclusions about the proportion of individual members of the public who have incoherent preferences about deficit reduction without access to the raw data. Ideally, we would break out the members of the public who advocate deficit reduction over stimulus and see how many of them oppose both higher taxes and reduced services. That’s the quantity of interest, but it’s unfortunately not available to us at this point.
Of course, the raw data might show that many people have incoherent views on deficit reduction. More importantly, what the aggregate data shows is that the public can have a consensus about a problem without having a consensus about a solution. Allahpundit, in a joking way, made a telling point:
It’s precisely this cake-and-eat-it fickleness that’s led Congress to put off dealing with Medicare and Social Security. The good news? ObamaCare’s a magical mystery miracle program that’s somehow going to achieve all three of these things simultaneously.
Of course, the joke is that ObamaCare is no such thing, and the public knows it. Americans hear that healthcare reform is going to be enormously expensive. They hear that the Congressional Budget Office says it will increase the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars (ultimately financed by current taxpayers or their children). It takes a consensus problem for which there is no consensus solution and makes it worse. The desire to avoid that does not seem particularly schizophrenic.