Saturday, October 31, 2009

Elephantine Encephalitis?

One David Catron, whose articles in The American Spectator include, among others, "The AMA's Quisling Strategy" and "Obamacare Could Kill You," has a blog called Health Care BS: Cleaning the Augean Stables of the Heath Care Debate. A recent post introduced readers to the Prisoner's Dilemma, the much-loved game theory construct in which individuals following their own self-interest end up creating a situation in which everyone is worse off.

So what is Catron's policy application of the Prisoner's Dilemma? Greenhouse gas emissions? Overfishing? Highway congestion? Gun ownership? Support for the poor? Standing up at baseball games?

No, his application is to... the public option. Yes, his claim (based on an irony-free reading of Andrew Sullivan) is that the public option is politically insidious, because it encourages voters to follow their individual interests in cheaper health care at the expense of the general good.

The first problem for Republicans, of course, is that he is in effect conceding that individuals could get cheaper health care through the public option. And he's not too specific about what the collective downside is. Hospital closures? Socialism?

But the bigger problem is that Republicanism in the twenty-first century is fundamentally hostile to the idea that there could be a conflict between individual self-interest and the greater good. Telling Republicans about the Prisoner's Dilemma starts you down a slippery slope. Pretty soon you're conceding that there might be a role for government in a free-enterprise economy. That the market can't do it all. That sometimes we need government regulation and government spending.

If too many people read his blog, Catron may find that he has introduced a virus into the central nervous system of the Republican Party.

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