Saturday, October 31, 2009

Local option

Reclusive Leftist has up a post about Harry Reid’s proposal to create a public option as part of health reform but let States opt-out. She is understandably irate that no one seems to know exactly how the opt-out would work but what caught my attention was her concluding paragraph:

And this whole states-opting-out thing is bullshit. Do people in red states not have rights?

Well, yes. And one of the rights they have - or are supposed to have - is to elect a governor and a State legislature to make decisions about what happens inside their State.

Let’s assume that everyone who voted for Barack Obama wants a public option in health reform. That means 53% of the people in the country want a public option. Okay, the majority of people want a public option which means the rest of us get it too. That’s fine, that’s how democracy works.

But what if the majority of the people in a particular State don’t want a public option? Why shouldn’t the the State opt out? If you follow the link in RL’s post you find yourself in a FiredogLake post that claims States which decide to opt out are “disenfranchising” the people who live in those States. But the opt-out will happen at the behest of the State governor and/or the State legislature both of which have been elected by the majority of voters in the State. If we go along with RL’s logic we must argue that if 53% of the people in the country want a policy everyone in every State must live under that policy - even if 95% of the people in a particular State don’t want to. But why? Some decisions cannot be variable across States - whether we belong to the United Nations, for example, or the use of the Armed Forces. But if a decision can vary across States I don’t see why we should insist on uniformity.

States making their own decisions drives people like Reclusive Leftist crazy but to me that’s the most brilliant idea embedded in our form of government. In a country this big and this diverse not everyone wants the same things and that’s where the States come in. They provide a means by which we can be a really big country and yet not try to force eveyone into the same mold. If the 53% of the people who want a public option are spread evenly across the country then every State will opt in. If the 53% of the people who want a public option are concentrated in “blue” States and the 47% who don’t are concentrated in “red” States then our form of Federalism lets us give most of the 53% what they want without forcing it on all of the 47% who don’t want it.

I know those who called themselves “progressives” will never buy the argument that States should have any say in such an important matter - or possibly in any matter - but there’s also a purely practical political side to this. Reclusive Leftist - and the articles at FireDogLake she links to - are concerned about the people in those red States. Red States have the highest percent of uninsured so they argue it’s wrong to allow their governors and/or state legislatures to cut them off from access to a public option. But if the public option works as well as its supporters believe it will, the States that opted out will want to opt in before too long. If I supported a public option, I’d rather pass a strong bill even if it didn’t include all the States than a weak bill that forced everyone to participate. Then I’d make sure States that opted out today could opt in further down the road, sit back, and wait for those silly red States to realize how much better off they’d be if they did it my way.

Of course the same logic applies to those who think a public option is the first step on the road to perdition. If the public option works as badly as its opponents believe it will, they can sit back and wait for the States that opted in to realize how much better things are going in the States that opted out. So if I opposed the public option, I’d make it my business to insure the opt out clause lets States opt out of the costs as well as the benefits and that States which opted in today can opt out further down the road. Then I’d sit back and wait for those silly blue States to realize how much better off they’d be if they’d listened to me in the first place.


Grim said...

I think Federalism is the greatest idea the Founders had; but it's one that has fallen out of fashion.

Still, if you don't like the opt-out? Delta is ready when you are.

Elise said...

I'm not sure I realized Delta was still in business.

More seriously this kind of ties in with your comment about Medicaid:

You may never have consented to it at all; but if a majority of your neighbors vote to take your cash for this purpose, you're stuck.

The basis of a democracy is that we all have to live with the majority's preferences however much we may dislike them. But I've been thinking a lot lately about at what point the decisions of the majority - especially if it's a 53-47 majority rather than, say, a 65-35 majority - are simply unacceptable to the minority.

I watched This Week this morning and they were talking about bipartisanship. Most of it was the standard "we're bipartisan, they're not" but Ron Brownstein was very interesting. He talked about the increasing gap between the Democrats' desire for more government and the Republicans' desire for less. (I'm grossly oversimplifying.) But it got me thinking even harder about whether we eventually reach the point where the two views simply can't live under the same government anymore. (The takeaway line was from George Will and Al Sharpton in concert: One side wants the government to protect them; the other side wants to be protected from the government.)

Which is just another reason why Federalism being unfashionable is such a tragedy. It's designed specifically to avoid a situation where people with radically different ideas about how they want to be governed can't hang together.

Grim said...

What I've been thinking about more and more is the fact that 75% of income taxes are paid by married couples (who are 40% of filers).

Now, we know that marriage is a successful means of producing an economically stable unit. However, it's not just that; stable marriage also produces a lot of social goods, like children more likely to achieve academically and economically in their turn. Furthermore, children from successful marriages are more likely to have successful marriages themselves.

In other words, married couples are carrying society. They're producing above their weight, paying most of the costs of raising the next generation, and raising the part of the next generation that will produce above its weight and is most likely to keep the cycle going.

That forty percent of income tax filers is pulling 75% of the tax-weight, while also producing a disproportionate share of the social goods. The sixty percent is producing 25% of the tax-weight, and doing much less to produce other social goods. Yet when we raise taxes to provide new social benefits, it's more taxes on the 40%, to provide new goods for the 60%.

At some point, don't they start to wonder -- 'What, exactly, are we getting out of this society?' The hope of the Great Society was that these programs would lift the poor out of these cyclical causes of poverty, and broaden the class of stable families that supported the weight of the society.

The opposite has happened: social programs' perverse incentives make it easier for families to dissolve. So we ask still more from those who have held their families together, to provide new programs...

At this point, we've quit even pretending that these things will help produce stronger families among the poor. That's a disaster, because the reason we 'need' these programs at all is because of the collapse of the family -- and the only hope for paying for the programs lies with successful families. We should be testing these programs against that question constantly, and discontinuing any that seem to be working against that goal.

Elise said...

So how would you design a program that would help lift people out of poverty without providing incentives to continue life choices that make poverty the likely outcome?