Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Craving Clarity in Policy Debates

Rabbi Yonason Goldson writes about "The Language of Confusion":
In his essay "The Principles of Newspeak," the appendix to his classic novel, 1984 (published 60 years ago this month), George Orwell describes how the leaders of his totalitarian future have contrived to assure their hold on power by replacing English with Newspeak, a language containing no vocabulary for concepts contrary to the platform of the state-run Party. By controlling language, the Party controls its people's very thoughts.

Intuition suggests that language is a product of thought: if we think clearly, automatically we will speak clearly. Orwell demonstrates the opposite, that thought is a product of language. Because we formulate our thoughts in words and sentences, incompetent use of language guarantees muddled thinking. If there are no words for rebellion, uprising, or discontent people will find it difficult to formulate and articulate the concept of overthrowing even the most corrupt and oppressive government.

Marketers talk about how to "reframe" a problem so the customer will think about it in a different fashion. For example, when showing a house in the country, the potential buyers might be worried about the long commute. A smart real estate agent will soon have them thinking cheery thoughts about being close to nature instead, diverting their attention from one of their reasons for not buying.

C. Edmund Wright lays out the word game underlying the so-called health care legislative push, where "health care" is conflated with "health insurance":
The confusion between "health care" and "health insurance" as public policy issues -- along with the near universal misunderstanding of what health insurance is (or should be) -- is making what should be a rather simple financial planning market solution a national nightmare.

Moreover, the nuanced difference in the language used has turned the issue much more emotional and much less rational, politically. We say we must reform the system to prevent families from going bankrupt over medical bills, then turn around and debate systems that micro-manage the costs of pills and routine check ups. Well, which do we really want to do? Those are entirely different issues.

The problem begins with the almost universal misapplication of the terms. Health insurance does not insure your health, nor was it ever intended to. Health care insurance, formerly called "medical insurance," is merely an instrument of neutralizing risk. Financial risk, that is.
Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt blows the whistle on the rebranding effort on Capitol Hill:
The Obama/Pelosi/Reid push to take over and nationalize health insurance via the so-called "government option" has received a face-lift this week, with many advocates of the takeover now calling it the "public option," which sounds less intrusive. No matter what you call it, the "government/public option" will destroy private sector insurance very soon after it passes and will push tens of millions of employed and covered Americans from the insurance plans they currently own (and generally like) into the sprawling, top-down, rationing-on-the-sly plan that is just Medicare on steroids, a "public option" that will be just as broke and just as oppressive when it comes to intensive treatment of difficult diseases and conditions as medicare is.
Unless our public policy debates can achieve clarity on exactly what the problems are before trying to craft solutions, the politicians and their staffs will continue to write legislation that promises much but comes with huge costs and unintended adverse consequences like the "stimulus" bill. Kevin Glass blogs:
Preliminary results from Barack Obama's stimulus are coming in. The news is not good.

Four months on from Barack Obama's stimulus package, we're seeing an explosion of analysis of what's actually been happening to the hundreds of billions of taxpayer money being doled out. has been doing a great job tracking where stimulus money is going and for what, and has worked as a non-partisan alternative counter to the Obama administration's propaganda website has a handy and detailed list that includes a list of "most recent" stimulus projects, "most expensive" projects, and what Americans are saying. It's an invaluable and unbiased resource for Americans concerned with Obama's spending projects.

The Reason Foundation has just released the "Taxpayer's Guide to the Stimulus." The guide breaks down stimulus spending by category, department and project. Their findings are depressing.

Rushing bills through Congress is not the answer! David Harsanyi opines in the Denver Post (h/t Corner):

Weren't we promised some methodical and deliberate governance from President Barack Obama? Where is it?

The president claims that we must pass a government-run health insurance program — possibly the most wide-ranging and intricate government undertaking in decades — yesterday or a "ticking time bomb" will explode.

If all this terrifying talk sounds familiar, it might be because the president applies the same fear-infused vocabulary to nearly all his hard-to-defend policy positions. You'll remember the stimulus plan had to be passed without a second's delay or we would see 8.7 percent unemployment. We're almost at 10.