Mike the Mad Biologist

I’ve written many times that everything you need to know about movement conservatism can be understood by observing creationists (not surprising, since the theopolitical right is a major element of the conservative movement). I’m glad to see NY Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman has finally reached his ‘creationist moment': the epiphany one realizes that, to creationists, words have no meaning, that they are not being honest.

Let’s jump to the end of Krugman’s recent op-ed “The War on Logic” (italics mine):

The key to understanding the G.O.P. analysis of health reform is that the party’s leaders are not, in fact, opposed to reform because they believe it will increase the deficit. Nor are they opposed because they seriously believe that it will be “job-killing” (which it won’t be). They’re against reform because it would cover the uninsured — and that’s something they just don’t want to do….

Given that their minds were made up from the beginning, top Republicans weren’t interested in and didn’t need any real policy analysis — in fact, they’re basically contemptuous of such analysis, something that shines through in their health care report. All they ever needed or wanted were some numbers and charts to wave at the press, fooling some people into believing that we’re having some kind of rational discussion.

The last sentence says it all.

This is no different in kind than the flimflammery of irreducible complexity or any of the other myriad falsehoods creationists spew:

Creationist leaders and spokesmen are willfully ignorant. How many times do they have to be told what scientists mean by a theory? How many times will they misstate the basics of evolutionary theory, such as claiming that natural selection is a tautology? The list goes on and on. These creationists have heard the evidence-based rebuttals of their false arguments many times.

And these rebuttals did not take. They never take. Creationist speakers continue to repeat these falsehoods even though they have heard the explanations over and over again, to the point where they could probably make the arguments themselves, were they so inclined. And they present themselves as an embattled minority, struggling for the truth. They are quite simply on the wrong side of the evidence, evidence gathered from disparate fields, such as biochemistry, genetics, geology, and physics.

So, to return to evidence and Krugman’s column, this conservative economic argument is no different than what I describe above (italics mine):

First of all, says the analysis, the true cost of reform includes the cost of the “doc fix.” What’s that?

Well, in 1997 Congress enacted a formula to determine Medicare payments to physicians. The formula was, however, flawed; it would lead to payments so low that doctors would stop accepting Medicare patients. Instead of changing the formula, however, Congress has consistently enacted one-year fixes. And Republicans claim that the estimated cost of future fixes, $208 billion over the next 10 years, should be considered a cost of health care reform.

But the same spending would still be necessary if we were to undo reform. So the G.O.P. argument here is exactly like claiming that my mortgage payments, which I’ll have to make no matter what we do tonight, are a cost of going out for dinner.

There’s more like that: the G.O.P. also claims that $115 billion of other health care spending should be charged to health reform, even though the [Congressional] budget office has tried to explain that most of this spending would have taken place even without reform.

You can try to explain all you want, they’re not listening.

And in a move worthy of creationist Michael Behe, who, during the Dover evolution trial, casually dismissed dozens of studies refuting his claims of the irreducible complexity of the human immune system, GOP House whip Eric Kantor declared that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is just “an opinion.”

I guess you could say Cantor is teaching the healthcare controversy.

Welcome, Prof. Krugman, to an evolutionary biologist’s world…

Comments

  1. #1 JasonTD
    January 19, 2011

    From what you quoted in Krugman’s article,

    But the same spending [the "doc fix"] would still be necessary if we were to undo reform. So the G.O.P. argument here is exactly like claiming that my mortgage payments, which I’ll have to make no matter what we do tonight, are a cost of going out for dinner.

    If the “doc fix” is so necessary and automatic, then why did the health care reform package include the savings of not changing the Medicare payment formula? If you and Krugman called out the Democrats a year ago for crafting the legislation to ignore this reality to get a better score from the CBO, then I applaud you for being consistent when so few people are. But even then, you should acknowledge that the Republicans are just playing by the rules set by the HCR package that was passed, rather than engaging in the kind of creationist denial you are accusing them of (for this particular case, at least).

  2. #2 Troublesome Frog
    January 19, 2011

    JasonTD:

    If the “doc fix” is so necessary and automatic, then why did the health care reform package include the savings of not changing the Medicare payment formula?

    I’m still reading through the CBO report, but I can’t find where this was done. The report does note that it assumes that the sustainable growth rate formula will remain intact and that this is an unlikely assumption, but I can’t see where it actually attributes the delta in cost to the bill it’s evaluating. Can you point to where this is done?

    From what I see, everything is (health care reform – current law) = net cost. The as the SGR formula is “current law” I don’t see how Congress could possibly have convinced the CBO to include it in the formula, and so far, I haven’t been able to find evidence that they did.

  3. #3 JasonTD
    January 19, 2011

    Troublesome Frog,

    I think I might have been wrong. What I was looking at was Table 2 on page 20 of the final CBO report on the legislation. It lists decreased outlays of $196 billion under “Reductions in Annual Updates to Medicare FFS Payment Rates”, but it looks as if that is something separate from the SGR formula issue. (In total, $455 billion is decreased outlays were listed as coming from changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and other CHIP provisions like this.)

    Some further searching also showed me articles from the time where provisions that permanently changed the SGR formula were removed from the legislation in order to keep the price tag down. Here is an article discussing the SGR fix in the context of the larger health care reform efforts. From that,

    For the sake of winning enough votes, Democrat-sponsored legislation is now designed to keep the cost of healthcare reform at $900 billion or less and to reduce the deficit. To hit their numbers, Democrats in both chambers have omitted the SGR fix and its $200 billion-plus price tag from their reform legislation and addressed the Medicare payment problem instead in separate bills—HR 3961 in the House and S 1776 in the Senate.

    So, I was misunderstanding some of the arguments about the doc fix and misread the CBO report. For that, I offer my apologies to Mike. Still, the SGR issue is a somewhat related issue in that it was part of the politics of getting the AMA and other physician groups to support the Democrats’ HCR plans.

  4. #4 Troublesome Frog
    January 20, 2011

    JasonTD:

    I won’t deny that they’re related issues in that they’re both about health care costs and government funding, but it’s hard to deny that blaming the Affordable Care Act for the annual SGR adjustment appears to be nothing more than a flat out lie. I can’t even figure out how anyone can be on the edge about this philosophically.

    The points that I have seen about the ACA are:

    1) It’s to blame for the SGR adjustment. Clearly nonsense.
    2) Something about “double counting” that I simply can’t get my head around. I’m pretty good at parsing this stuff, but none of the explanations I’ve seen is anything more than word soup, and it’s usually coming from people who are claiming (1).
    3) “Why have a nonpartisan professional research and modeling office whose job is to carefully analyze this stuff when you can use your gut? Your gut agrees with me, doesn’t it?”

    My verdict so far is that the claims about the ACA increasing the deficit seem to be bullshit. The fact that the people screaming about the deficit seem to be the people who are mostly responsible for it doesn’t help the situation. There is clearly only one side interested in actual governance here.

  5. #5 william e emba
    January 20, 2011

    I’m glad to see NY Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman has finally reached his ‘creationist moment':

    Finally? Krugman certainly had his creationist moment more than a decade ago.

    What fools you is that Krugman is engaged in a different fight with different rules. And he is writing mere snippets at a time in his op-eds.

    Creationists are blithering idiots fighting strict constitutional hurdles and several continents worth of hard-core evidence, and they have mere peanuts in financial backing. Supply-siders and their ilk are sophisticated idiots with no legal barriers, relatively sparse data against them, and a humongous money machine.

  6. #6 Kermit
    January 20, 2011

    “And these rebuttals did not take. They never take. Creationist speakers continue to repeat these falsehoods even though they have heard the explanations over and over again”

    For the Creationist (and similar denialist types) reality is entirely a social construct. If the US and Canada argue over a political border, the reality is determined by agreement. If the two parties do not agree, the matter is still up in the air, and onlookers can take sides. Arguments (“we were here first!”) can be repeated forever, like jabs in a street fight; when one side concedes (by dying, or simply giving up) then the other wins, and reality is established.

    The world around us is not something to discover, but rather something to *define and place in their story.

    Creationists are motivated by tribal identity and valued for their loyalty. Their very life depends on being right. The *enemy has those other opinions and a Loyal American / True Christian / Son of the South …would never hold them.

    They spent their lives, from infancy on, denying reality; listening carefully to the right opinions in order to establish their worth by agreement; and very carefully never, ever examining the consequences of their beliefs (not moral consequences, but logical – if X, then Y and Z would be true). This is why they are so awful at understanding other people’s points of view (“If I were Muslim, what would I think about this?”).

    They are this way partly by nature, partly by upbringing, and partly by selection. I was raised Creationist, but got better by the time I turned 13, so I spent a few very long years watching them up close from the inside before escaping.

  7. #7 Roman
    January 21, 2011

    @william e emba

    “Creationists are blithering idiots fighting strict constitutional hurdles and several continents worth of hard-core evidence, and they have mere peanuts in financial backing. Supply-siders and their ilk are sophisticated idiots with no legal barriers, relatively sparse data against them, and a humongous money machine. ”

    The big difference is that the evolution vs creationism debate can be and has been settled using scientific arguments a long time ago. There has been no such definite conclusion in the debate Krugman is taking part in — call it monetarists vs keynesians or whatever you want. Economy is not a hard science.

  8. #8 elspi
    January 22, 2011

    “There has been no such definite conclusion in the debate”

    Have you been asleep for the last decade? Reality has spoken.

    Read ‘Zombie Economics” and stop with the horseshit.

  9. #9 Roman
    January 22, 2011

    @elspi

    “Have you been asleep for the last decade? Reality has spoken.”

    It’s not that easy as you think it is.

  10. #10 Samantha Vimes
    January 24, 2011

    It is *complex*, Roman, but there’s decades of data that support some ideas and not others. Centuries, even, if you are looking for specific types of information.

    But, damn! The title of this piece had me *worried* for a minute.

  11. #11 Juice
    January 25, 2011

    I’d just like top reiterate what Roman said.

    Economics is not science.

    No matter how much economists want to think of themselves as some kind of scientists, they are not.

  12. #12 bobbyp
    May 15, 2011

    Economics is the science of too many variables.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.