Thursday, November 13, 2014

4 takes on Jonathan Gruber's remarks on Obamacare

Gruber, an MIT economics professor who's considered a key architect of Obamacare (and Romneycare), infamously said:

Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical in getting the thing to pass . . . . And I wish Mark was right, we could make it all transparent, but I'd rather have this law than not.
Howard Dean:
The problem is not that he said it. The problem is that he thinks it. The core problem with the damn law is it was put together by a bunch of elitists who don’t really, fundamentally understand the American people. That’s what the problem is.
(That's my own transcription of Dean; the quote at that link is incorrect.)

Ann Althouse (my mom):
MIT prof Jonathan Gruber is sorry he was transparent about the lack of transparency in getting Obamacare passed. . . . He wants his old lack of transparency back. He revealed what he liked so much about it. Now, why can't he have it back? Well, Professor Gruber, it just doesn't work that way. Once you've let us see that you mean to deceive us, we won't get fooled again . . . unless you're right, and we really are stupid.
Tyler Cowen:
It’s a healthy world where academics can speak their minds at conferences and the like without their words becoming political weapons in a bigger fight. . . . I’m simply not very interested in his proclamations on tape, which as far as I can tell are mostly correct albeit overly cynical. (If anything he is overrating the American voter — most people weren’t even paying close enough attention to be tricked.) Criticisms of Gruber are not criticisms of a policy, and it is policy we should focus upon and indeed there is still a great deal of health care policy we need to figure out. It’s hardly news that intellectuals who hold political power, even as advisors, very often do not speak the truth. If anything, I feel sorry for Gruber that he has subsequently felt the need to so overcompensate by actively voicing such ex post cynicism, it is perhaps the sign of a soul not at rest.

In the meantime, I’d like to see more open discourse, not less. Perhaps we should subsidize people who end up looking foolish, rather than taxing them.
Bryan Caplan responds to Tyler Cowen:
Tyler and I start at the same place yet end continents apart. We see the same facts: Lying politicians and the elite intellectuals who craftily decorate their masters' lies. But Tyler starts with a strong moral presumption that Whatever People in Our Society Routine[ly] Do is morally acceptable. Indeed, he bends over backwards to see the world from their point of view.

I, in contrast, start with a strong moral presumption in favor of scrupulous honesty. Unless you have strong reason to believe that lying will have awesome consequences, you shouldn't lie. Instead of bending over backwards to make excuses for liars, we should bend over backwards to tell the truth. The fact that most people fall short of this puritanical standard shows that most people ought to shape up and fly right.

And when people fleetingly realize that every society is ruled by liars, they are right to shudder.