html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: More. But I feel bad about it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More. But I feel bad about it.

I am going to be very ashamed of myself for getting back into this debate, so I might as well tie up the loose ends now.

Prof. Hanson:

I would tolerate your Should-Be-Banned store, but get a very worried look on my face when I saw people going into it. I would be happier with it if wealth were evenly distributed across everyone, so that the choice to buy cheap but dangerous shit were a reflection of someone's risk assessment and not an indication that their economic class forced them into risk they didn't really want.

Also, my limited exposure to agency life makes me think that setting the standards is the expensive part anyway. I don't know that to be true, perhaps enforcement is just as expensive or more expensive. But I've only seen the standard setting side, so I tend to think that is most of the cost. If we've paid most of the cost, why not finish the job and just get rid of dangerous crap?

Prof. Somin hit on my biggest concern about government- based health care:
With a mandatory government solution, we will at best get the menu of choices that the majority of voters consider appropriate - a result that will be deeply unsatisfactory to many who have minority preferences. At worst, the menu will be dictated by narrow interest groups that manage to capture the regulatory process and use it for their own benefit.

This is the problem we saw with prison health care, which is that agencies respond to political pressures, and do not provide what there is no constituency for. My solution to that is the same as Prof. Pasquale's:
But the answer is not to simply give up on government, but to develop the types of political arrangements that expose, shame, and punish capture--such as robust campaign finance regulation

The quality of governance is not fixed. You could vastly improve your civil service by paying more to make the jobs more competitive, or by training people in the skills of governance (not just engineering or health or whatever the departmental purpose is), or even just by giving civil service some respect. Agencies will perform to the expectations of the people it answers to; that's you. If you tell bureaucrats their work is worthless and pointless and annoying, that is what they will deliver for you. You get the bureaucrats you expect.

The problem of prison health care reform is being address by the judicial system. You can introduce checks that solve agency capture or crises going unfixed. You can have the executive branch examine and design agencies for current purposes; eliminate outdated functions. It is OUR civil service and there is no reason it is immutable. An administration that valued the civil service could make it very good.


Anonymous Peter said...

Is the Prof. Hansen to whom you refer Victor Hansen? If so, you ought to see what the War Nerd wrote about him.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Aw crap, I spelled his name wrong. I HATE doing that. It is what I get for working from memory. I'll correct that, thanks.

I meant Prof. Robin Hanson.

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You stick it to 'em! Anyone who's interested can see here for a link to the audo of my debate with Robin on this topic some months ago.

David J. Balan

10:10 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

David, this summary was fantastic. I'd take it further, though, because I don't think that very bright people necessarily make good choices. I assume that many bright people live in high-risk floodplains, but I think many of them simply aren't aware of the danger. Once they've bought in, there's nearly no hope of convincing them to move for an abstract danger. So I'm willing to take it further than you are.

10:39 PM  
Blogger dcw said...

I love the idea of a should-be-banned store! What a great way to accomodate the preferences of those who would rather pay for less safety than the median citizen.

Megan comments that she would like the should-be-banned store more if wealth were more evenly distributed. But in fact, the should-be-banned store improves welfare more in a society with a very uneven distribution of wealth.

The more you are poorer than the median citizen, your more your preferences are likely to favor cheapness over safety. (Just imagine the U.S. in 1800, with a real per capita GDP of $1200, trying to function under today's safety standards; there is no way they could have got on with the activities that improved their lives. We would presumably be similiarly stiffled by the imposition of safety standards from the year 2200.) If, on the other hand, wealth is evenly distributed, the safety vs. cost preferences of any given citizen are more likely to lie close to the median.

A progressive's reaction to the thought experiment of the should-be-banned store is a good test to distinguish the progressive who wants to improve the welfare of the poor from the progressive who wants to impose middle-class values on the poor. (Given history's judgement of the turn-of-the-century progressive movement, the latter strain of progressive thinking shouldn't be discounted out of hand.)

11:44 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

People have a truly weird view of what government-financed health care entails. There is probably less control over individual choice of what health care to get in existing single-payer health care systems than the typical American HMO enrollee has to put up with from their HMO. The equation of "single payer health care" and "control over my health care decisions" is a canard. These are more or less unrelated issues.

Most internet libertarians are more concerned with repeating dramatic abstract generalities about rights than figuring out how social systems actually work.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Whoops, this might be the wrong thread for that comment. Hard to keep straight all the impassioned Megan/libertarian debates going on around here.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Sometimes I think that some libertarian commenters are not very interested in the specifics of the system that we are actually in.

5:22 PM  

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