Greg Mankiw on deficit neutrality for health care:
The President’s economic team regularly reminds us of the following:
- The United States faces a large long-term fiscal gap between spending and tax revenue.
- That gap is driven in large measure by increasing healthcare costs.
- Healthcare reform should “bend the curve” and reduce future healthcare costs.
In light of these facts, shouldn’t the healthcare reform bill be more than deficit neutral? Shouldn’t it reduce the long-term structural deficit? As Donald Marron points out, current Congressional efforts do not even meet the standard of deficit neutrality. But even if they were deficit neutral, that would hardly be a success.
We were once told that healthcare reform would help fix our long-term fiscal problems. Now the standard is that healthcare reform won’t make these problems worse.
I would respond by saying that there’s a weird tendency among people to think that very banal comments are very important insights when they come from Greg Mankiw. And this is worse than a very banal comment: It’s disengaged with the debate.
Mankiw’s basic argument is that health-care reform should be better than deficit-neutral. It should be deficit-improving. That is to say, it should bend the curve in the long term. And it should! But what evidence does Mankiw have that it won’t?
[...] These are pretty fundamental concepts in the health-care reform debate as it’s currently progressing. I don’t know if Mankiw is missing them or just ignoring them. But if you’re concerned enough to write about the need for long-term cost control, you should be concerned enough to learn about some of the ideas for controlling costs. But Mankiw’s coverage of health-care reform thus far has been disappointing, even in contrast to people who largely agree with him, like Tyler Cowen. It’s been the Econ 101 of health-care reform: Some familiarity with the basic concepts, but not much engagement with the complexities or realities of the process.
Mankiw responds with “Whatever.”
This is the fallacy known as “burden shifting”. It’s up to the advocate to make his case rather than the counter-advocate to disprove the advocate’s case. Dr. Mankiw is under no obligation to disprove anything. There’s plenty of evidence disproving the case for the House and Senate’s healthcare reform bills, by the way, most notably from Doug Elmendorf, head of the CBO.
Mr. Klein proceeds by making his case, giving four red herrings, which he acknowledges as such
Would Klein be a better writer/thinker/pundit/blogger/wonk/whatever if he had actually done some of the “reporting” stuff, factual reporting stuff, basic beat reporting stuff, that, as I sort of remember, was how in the old days of journalism, one clawed one’s way up to the lofty heights that Klein has scaled in a couple of years of pure opinionating? Was there some value to having to labor, so to speak, in the plains of fact-gathering before getting a perch to express one’s many views?
Klein’s career has consisted entirely, so far as I can tell, of delivering himself of many opinions. In an age in which (a) the front pages of newspapers increasingly consist of precisely that and (b) the internet emerged as a forum for disseminating oneself individually and one’s opinions as a career option, he has Done Well. Or as well as one can do by shoehorning oneself on the strength of one’s own internet brand into the … money-losing, dinosaur-media, Kaplan-supported Washington Post. I imagine Klein will milk it until that franchise is no longer valuable enough and then move on to colonize some other medium – I see forms of communication that require less writing and more talking, more visual stuff, in his future. Or wherever the money is in offering opinions. My suggestion? Subcontract the book; you’re more a short-form kind of writer.
But I find it hard to believe that his older journalistic peers at the Post and in the profession do not think privately to themselves that, although his political progressivism makes him not really attackable, just as a career figure, they must think to themselves that he might be improved had he done something besides go directly from junior high school to internet “public policy” columnist. He and I both graduated from UCLA – I didn’t know they had a major in pontification. Do they hand out diplomas from the college of “Generic Expert”? B.E., Bachelor of Expert degrees?
It is, of course, not outside the realm of possibility that Ezra, Young Turk, is possessed of a keener analytic mind than Greg Mankiw; I’m not opining here on substance, but only on the seemliness of career track. It’s the realm of possibility, however, in which Spock has a goatee.
So it distresses me to see the VC’s descent into predictable glibertarianism. Kenneth Anderson’s silly, nasty, fact-free attack on Ezra Klein — who has a much better record than most daily-press reporters of actually doing his homework and learning about the substance of the issues he writes about — provides a sorry example of the trend. Of course Klein doesn’t know as much economics as Greg Mankiw, but knowing economics and knowing health economics are two different things.
Klein knows a bunch of economists who know as much economics as Mankiw does, and, being a quick study, has made himself an advanced amateur in health economics. And it doesn’t take any deep knowledge to notice that Mankiw simply ignores some potentially cost-reducing elements of the plan that is now emerging, while proclaiming ex cathedra that it fails to reduce cost.
New fight. Nico Pitney at HuffPo:
But on Monday morning, the committee announced two new additions to the hearing, both aggressive neoconservatives whose Middle East analysis has proven detrimental. One is Orde F. Kittrie of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the other is Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. (These witnesses were chosen by Republican members of the committee.)
Rubin’s addition, in particular, is rather stunning. His career work include aiding Doug Feith in the notorious Office of Special Plans to advance dubious intelligence that helped lead the U.S. into war in Iraq; repeatedly advocating for military action against Iran over the last several years; and, in June, laying out the case for why Ahmadinejad would be preferable to a “more soft-spoken and less defiant” president like Mousavi — “it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger.”
This panel really needs some balance. If you’re interested in calling the committee and suggesting Trita Parsi (or someone else), you can reach them at (202) 225-5021.
Rubin responds at The Corner:
You say I repeatedly advocate for military action against Iran over the last several years. You lie shamelessly. Name a single instance, Nico. You cite this article, but it notes that I do not call for military force. Like the president, I consider kinetic action a last resort. Indeed, I have argued against colleagues who embrace military strikes. Not only would military action rally Iranians around the flag, but since strikes would only delay an Iranian nuclear program, they would in effect use the U.S. military to kick the can down the road because U.S. politicians do not want to deal with the real problem, which is the nature of the Iranian regime. It is sad to see that you follow in the path of the National Iranian American Council’s journalism fellow Artin Afkhami, who was caught fabricating a quote and attributing it to the Washington Post. Perhaps he’s angling for a job at the Huffington Post?
You write that, in June, I said that I preferred Ahmadinejad to win over Mousavi. I said no such thing. Your colleague Rachel Weiner did. She was too ignorant of the topic she was reporting to realize that the issues of concern to U.S. national security — terrorism and proliferation — are in the purview of the Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guard than the president.
Nico, I do need to thank you. It’s not every day that, despite Sam Stein’s insistence that The Huffington Post is a serious news outlet, its editor asks Congress to invite a favored activist to hearings, sources material to Lyndon LaRouche, footnotes items which contradict the statements they seek to source and, stumbles over basic issues like the power structure in Iran. Alas, while your ego may have reached new heights with Obama’s favor, not everything is as much of a put-up job as a White House press conference.
Beyond the specifics of this case, however, I note that this is part of a longstanding Rubin habit of dealing with political disagreements through hysteria, whining, and bullying. When people argue about politics, they often disagree about how best to characterize a situation. When Rubin disagrees with how someone characterizes something, he responds by accusing his opponents of being a deliberate fabricator. He’s done it to my friend Mark Goldberg, he’s done it to me, he’s done it to George Packer and Laura Rozen, and he’s done it to Matt Duss among others. And since they have no standards whatsoever at National Review, I assume he’ll keep on doing it.
UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf defends Ezra from Anderson:
Ezra Klein generates more heat than light? Does he generate any heat? The idea that Ezra is some kind of attack dog who generates traffic by baiting ideological adversaries into flame wars is about as complete a misreading of his blog as I can imagine. The left margin of his site is a regularly updated list of white papers he recommends to his readers! Mr. Anderson even implies that the right wing equivalent of Ezra is a talk radio host. Weird.
Lord knows I’ve criticized some Ezra Klein blog posts, that I am sometimes put off by the breezy arrogance that can creep into his writing, and that he errors in his analysis and rhetorical approach at times, as do we all. When Mr. Anderson wonders whether Ezra would be perform better were he older or a veteran of reporting, however, I can’t help but wonder why that is possibly relevant. We’d all be better at our jobs, compared to our current self, given more experience. The important question is how Ezra fares relative to other opinion journalists.
I’d say he offers a valuable comparative advantage; that he is better than plenty of aged pundits who began their careers as reporters; and that whatever his flaws or occasional ill-conceived posts, he is worth reading.
UPDATE #2: Michael Rubin:
Last week, I took Nico Pitney to task for getting something 100 percent wrong. Specifically, Nico wrote that I was “repeatedly advocating for military action against Iran over the last several years” when, in fact, I have not only never taken that position, but have also argued consistently against bombing Iran in lectures to the U.S. military units, various World Affairs Councils, and at universities. On other issues as well, Nico got basic facts wrong and eschewed basic fact-checking.
Nico is the national editor of the Huffington Post. Requests for corrections go through him. Alas, Nico has not the professionalism to respond to an e-mail request for corrections or post a retraction. The longer you wait, Nico, the more ridiculous you look.