Paul Krugman on the Broccoli Fallacy
April 2, 2012 10 Comments
One of the ways in which the right wing have taken aim at the attempt to provide health care in this country is to compare the individual health care mandate (a conservative proposal invented by their very own Heritage Foundation) to the forced purchase and consumption of broccoli. Yeah, it doesn’t really work on any level, but did you expect the Supreme Court justices to act like Tea Party enthusiasts? Paul Krugman didn’t.
Given the stakes, one might have expected all the court’s members to be very careful in speaking about both health care realities and legal precedents. In reality, however, the second day of hearings suggested that the justices most hostile to the law don’t understand, or choose not to understand, how insurance works. And the third day was, in a way, even worse, as antireform justices appeared to embrace any argument, no matter how flimsy, that they could use to kill reform.
It’s embarrassing that he is forced to do so, but Krugman details why broccoli is different than health care.
When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.
There are at least two ways to address this reality — which is, by the way, very much an issue involving interstate commerce, and hence a valid federal concern. One is to tax everyone — healthy and sick alike — and use the money raised to provide health coverage. That’s what Medicare and Medicaid do. The other is to require that everyone buy insurance, while aiding those for whom this is a financial hardship.
I’m less optimistic about the Court than Krugman is. Ruling against health care for political reasons would simply be more evidence that the Court is a political instrument promoting right wing causes in whichever fashion it can. After the ways in which they ignored precedent in Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, it’s pretty clear that they are the Tea Party Court.
Clarence Thomas’s wife has quite literally earned her keep as a Tea Party lobbyist. When Antonin Scalia scoffs at citizens who are concerned about the government counting votes properly, he positions himself as the heir to the late great Andrew Breitbart, who took aim at the organization ACORN because they were far too effective in actually increasing voter participation.
It reminds me of the earlier days of Fox News, before it became common knowledge that they are the Fox Republican News Network, a media company set up to serve the Republican Party. We can’t compete with Fox and their Supreme Court justices on the grounds of money, but we can at least treat them as the partisan operatives that they are.
The United States Supreme Court is a political body, a branch of the government, and while I’d support making it more deliberative, progressives do themselves a big disservice if they don’t acknowledge the Court’s conservative bent and work to make that understood by the broader public.
Polentical: The Argument for Health Care
Polentical: Jeffrey Toobin on Conservative Justices and Health Care