Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nobody Is Responsible For Anything, Ever

While the right, who spent every minute since September 11, 2001, calling for death and devastation to their enemies, real or perceived, pretend that they are never responsible for anything they say or do, let's take a look at how the war bloggers and freedom-lovin' libertarians really thought about shooting their enemies.

After a couple of careful caveats, Megan McArdle expressed her sympathy and understanding towards those who want to kill people they don't agree with. Cheering on our murder of innocent Iraqis as a war blogger made her famous and successful, so it's no surprise that McArdle would continue to excuse those who think their enemies should be shot.

[...I]f you actually think late-term abortion is murder, then the murder of [abortion provider] Dr. Tiller makes total sense.

Taking the law into your own hands, becoming judge, jury and executioner, makes perfect sense. That is, it makes perfect sense if you're the sort of person who think that we should be able to invade and murder at will. As Jonah Goldberg said:

I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I’ve ever heard, by the way).

And if you don't mind killing people who piss you off or get in the way, you certainly don't mind supporting their deaths or injury when they piss you off or get in the way.

We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders--had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer's actions. In this case, the law was powerless because the law supported late-term abortions. Moreover, that law had been ruled outside the normal political process by the Supreme Court.

Megan McArdle is saying that if the laws of the law, the normal legal and political procedures of elections, judges, appellate judges, and appeals to the Supreme Court don't go your way, it's perfectly understandable to murder your opponents. Not that she'd do it, of course. Ha ha! She has an Ivy League degree and just writes about murder being okay, she doesn't actually do it herself! But it's certainly understandable if someone else thinks it's okay. Not that that'll ever happen!

Jason Zengerle says that the idea of betting on an outcome like the discharge of a gun at another human being is "offensive". Well, I'm betting on good behavior, which doesn't seem that offensive to me. Zengerle et. al. are the ones claiming that people openly carrying guns have a significant probability of hauling off and shooting someone for no good reason.

I find that rather offensive, given how little the people saying this sort of thing actually know about the protesters. They may, to be sure, be gun-mad lunatics dying for a chance to shoot some random stranger. Me, I'd expect the gun-mad lunatics are probably carrying their gun concealed somewhere on their person, the better to use it without being stopped. But I don't know. The point is, neither does the other side. All these confident predictions of impending violence do not, to me, seem to rest on much more than the belief that people who openly carry weapons near a rally must be gun-crazed lunatics who want to intimidate Democrats with threats of violence. This is somewhat circular to say the least.

Zengerle also conflates this with presidential assassination, as have many other commentators. As far as I know, only one chap has been near the president, and he was a publicity stunt. The others seem to be at less august meetings. If a gun nut wants to assassinate a minor Senator or Congressman, he doesn't need to carry a rifle to a protest somewhere. They're not that well protected. And also, not that frequently attacked.

We certainly hope you noticed there that McArdle was talking about how people should be able to openly carry guns around politicians. She said nothing about it being okay to hide a gun and shoot someone, for pete's sake! Just that it was okay to kill your political enemies who did not break the law, or that it was okay to assault protestors who have not committed a crime, or that it's okay to kill foreigners who did not attack you.

If you think that someone is committing hundreds of gruesome murders a year, and that the law cannot touch him, what is the moral action? To shrug? Is that what you think of ordinary Germans who ignored Nazi crimes? Is it really much of an excuse to say that, well, most of your neighbors didn't seem to mind, so you concluded it must be all right? We are not morally required to obey an unjust law. In fact, when the death of innocents is involved, we are required to defy it.

It's okay, says Megan McArdle of The Atlantic. She understands how murderers feel. After all, she couldn't wait to murder innocent Iraqis after 9/11. It's perfectly natural to want to ignore the laws we fought so hard to establish and pick up a gun and start shooting. Or, even better, send a soldier to do the dirty work.

As I say, I think their moral intuition is incorrect.

Well, thank God that McArdle doesn't really think that it's understandable that people killed an abortion doctor despite the fact that she just said it was okay.

The fact that conception and birth are the easiest bright lines to draw does not make either of them the correct one. Tiller's killer is a murderer, and whether or not he deserves the lengthy jail sentence he will get, society needs him in jail for its own protection.

Oh, I see. It's not that abortion doctors, who are performing leagal procedures, should be protected. She doesn't want to be blow away during all the mayhem.. She needs to be protected. But her enemies? Get out the target sights, baby!

Using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes does not seem to be very effective in getting them to eschew violence. In fact, it seems to be a very good way of getting more violence. Possibly because those fringes have often turned to violence precisely because they feel that the political process has been closed off to them.

Please read the entire thing so you can see the nuance and caveats for yourself. No doubt McArdle would think them perfectly adequate and that they absolve her of any responsibility for publically accepting the anti-law, pro-gun-and-muder attitude of the poor, put-upon people who don't win elections and therefore must pick up a gun and start blowing people away because their political party lost the last election.

Speaking of losing elections, Megan McArdle, to her instense grief, was on the losing side of the health care vote. It passes and she nearly passed out in spastic agonies of fear and loathing. Words being her weapons and wingut welfare her bullets, she locked and loaded.

If you design a formula to deny granny a pacemaker, knowing that this is the intent of the formula, then you've killed granny just as surely as if you'd ordered the doctor to do it directly. That's the intuition behind the conservative resistance to switching from price rationing to fiat rationing. Using the government's coercive power to decide the price of something, or who ought to get it, is qualitatively different from the same outcome arising out of voluntary actions in the marketplace. Even if you don't share the value judgement, it's not irrational, except in the sense that all human decisions have an element of intuition and emotion baked into them.

Health care reform will lead to rationing and rationing will kill Granny!

[...W]hy don't you tell some person who has a terminal condition that sorry, we can't afford to find a cure for their disease? There are no particularly happy choices here. The way I look at it, one hundred percent of the population is going to die of something that we can't currently cure, but might in the future . . . plus the population of the rest of the world, plus every future generation. If you worry about global warming, you should worry at least as hard about medical innovation.

The other major reason that I am against national health care is the increasing license it gives elites to wrap their claws around every aspect of everyone's life. Look at the uptick in stories on obesity in the context of health care reform. Fat people are a problem! They're killing themselves, and our budget! We must stop them! And what if people won't do it voluntarily? Because let's face it, so far, they won't. Making information, or fresh vegetables, available, hasn't worked--every intervention you can imagine on the voluntary front, and several involuntary ones, has already been tried either in supermarkets or public schools. Americans are getting fat because they're eating fattening foods, and not exercising. How far are we willing to go beyond calorie labelling on menus to get people to slim down?

These aren't just a way to save on health care; they're a way to extend and expand the cultural hegemony of wealthy white elites. No, seriously.

The government is trying to control you and will force you to live by their dictates! Millions will die!

The things that make markets innovate--profit potential--have been mostly squeezed out of the [Dutch] system. The things that hasten market discover--prices--have also been increasingly relegated to central authority. Having something like that in the United States would produce exactly the outcome I'm worried about. So if Matt is right, and this is where the slippery slope ends up, my nightmare will have been realized.

Nighmares of Northern European-type socialist rationed care!

If the public sector atrophies, the scope for manipulation broadens, because the information about what's available outside the public sector shrinks. Nor is this just crazy speculation. I actually think it's pretty reasonable when conservatives worry that the Dutch attitudes towards euthanasia are influenced by the burden old people and severely disabled children put on the public purse. I don't see how they could fail to be.

So I don't think it's crazy that Rasmussen is reporting that 51% of people now trust their insurance companies more than the government to handle their health care. In fact, I expect that number to go up. This is not, as some libertarians would have it, because the free market is Teh Awesome, while the government is Teh Suck. It's because the two institutions are, on this particular question, balancing each other. In doing so, they are creating cost inflation. But they're preventing something that many people legitimately believe is worse.

Death panels!

I suspect that [John] Holbo, and many of my interlocutors, are made intensely uncomfortable by the idea that their root assumption--that they are on the side of reducing human suffering and lengthening lifespans--might be wrong. There are a bunch of ways you can deal with this disturbing possibility. You can scream at me. You can posit a highly speculative world in which government and academia suddenly, and for no apparent reason, get a lot better a inventing devices and mass-market drugs than they have so far proven. You can claim, falsely, that government and academia already do all the work producing useful drugs. You can assume that slashing pharma profits 80% will have no impact on their behavior, or at least, only change the behavior you want to change.

Or you can bite the bullet and say, we should save lives now at the expense of lives later. There's philisophic justification for that choice. But that opens up a whole can of worms about things like global warming. It helps if you phrase it aggressively: "How dare you suggest that someone should suffer now when we can treat them, so that someone who's not even born yet can live?" and don't think much about the equally inflammatory alternative formulation: "How dare you suggest that billions and billions of people suffer and die for the sake of a few uninsured Americans right now?" Geometric progressions are a bitch. So is figuring out the right discount rate for the lives of future world citizens, as William Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern can attest.

If the innovation spurred by the private sector could save 1% of the people who currently die each year, the number of people we'd be killing along with the private sector would necessarily be hugely larger than the number of people we'd save by implementing such insurance, since the most grotesquely exaggerated estimates released by interest groups pin the latter figure at around 0.8% of deaths in America (a much smaller number than the number who are estimated to be killed by access to the system--nosocomial infections and treatment side effects). That's even before you consider the people in other countries who would be saved by these advances. When I talk about the utilitarian calculus of weighing the good of current uninsured against the good to people who are currently, and in the future, untreatable without further innovation.


So let me turn it around on John Holbo, et. al. Put aside your ideological committments, and seriously consider the possibility that I might be right. What P(less innovation) would it take for you to abandon the quest for single payer? How many billions of lives would you be willing to gamble on your speculation about alternative innovation mechanisms? I submit that as a practical matter, it shouldn't take a very large possibility that you're wrong to make you at least pause a moment, and reconsider.

Imagine, arguendo, that I am right, and the US is basically providing most of the incentive for innovation. Imagine further that Nixon had succeeded in passing a national health care plan. Would more, or fewer, people be suffering and dying today?

So let me offer another hypothetical. If liberals can build an alternative to the profit model that's at least as productive, in dollars spent, as the private sector, and looks reasonably likely to scale, I'll probably cave. (I reserve the right to worry about rationing, but I find that worry less pressing.) At the very least, my worries about the issue will move it to the back burner for me. But the thing is, you have to do it first. Use prizes, non-profits, the research agency Dean Baker's proposed, or any combination of the above. You just have to do it first. Right now, it's just too much of a gamble.

If government health care is passed, millions will die. And we all know that it's okay to kill if we'll save lives, like Dr. Tiller's assassin. Who knows how many people will die now that Gabrielle Giffords has voted for health care reform?

What if everything goes the way I think it will? What if converting the United States to a single payer system causes the pace of medical innovation to slow to a crawl? People who have diseases for which there are not now good therapies lose all hope, because there is virtually no pharma or medtech industry which might invent something to save their life. Lifespans stop lengthening. Pharma and medtech turn into fat, soft, government suppliers, using the regulatory power of the healthcare agencies to keep out incumbents. There are periodic shortages of various treatments because the government has a budget problem, or has gotten the prices wrong--and knowing us, the whole system comes with a "buy American" mandate.

Is that a tradeoff you would make? Save the few thousand who might be kept alive by healthcare they now can't afford, and take the possibility of new treatments from the millions who might be cured, or at least have their conditions improved?

It's no good dismissing it on the grounds that it's unlikely, because you can't think it any more unlikely than I think the notion of a healthcare reform that is all upside, no downside.

I can see the arguments for both sides. There's no right answer, and certainly no happy one. I'm well aware that there are real people who may die because of my preferences. And other real people who may die because of yours. None of them are any less worthy of life than any other.

That's why I found the First Things article interesting: because it faced up to the fact that on the margin, any choice we make about healthcare has terrible implications. When it comes to healthcare, we cannot help but play God. And unlike Him, we are cursed with imperfect knowledge. All we have is our intuitions, our observations of the world, and our best guess about the future.

Or Millions Will Die!!!!!

The funny thing--heh, you'll love this--was that Megan McArdle simply made up the claim that health insurance reform would kill medical innovation. All that fear-mongering, all that You're going to Die! rhetoic was based on a lie. She was just guessing! And, of course, she is being paid by multi-millionaie with close economic ties to the current health care and insurance systems.

But that's just business. Megan McArdle's fearmonging has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with disturbed individuals who are susceptable to outside forces due to mental illness. When a nice, clean, middle-class woman like Megan McArdle tries to frighten people into supporting her ecnomic interests she is not spreading fear and paranoia, which might be picked up by crazed individuals with easy access to guns.

She's just doing her job.


Anonymous said...

Susan, You are doing great work but I literally had to skip reading the entire thing. It made me dizzy with nausea. That woman is working harder at being morally empty, and allowing evil to rush in and fill that void, that most starving people work to find food. She must be working day and night to achieve that level of banal horror.


fish said...

Using the political system to stomp on radicalized fringes does not seem to be very effective in getting them to eschew violence. In fact, it seems to be a very good way of getting more violence. Possibly because those fringes have often turned to violence precisely because they feel that the political process has been closed off to them.

Yet she was a strong supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One might begin to wonder if Megan is actually using whatever argument is convenient at the moment instead of having real core principles from which she might argue.

Yes, one might wonder.

Kia said...

She is paid to make moral clarity on these points look ridiculous, sentimental, and impossible, and to normalize the blurring of the line between good and evil. Her vanity, her hopeless incompetence, and this sort of chirpy offhandedness, and her sincere desire to please her uh, clientele, are real value added. I suppose everyone who pays for sex cherishes a vague hope that the other party is enjoying it. In that respect, Megan delivers. Her placement in the Atlantic elevates and gives respectability to the predictable mental reflexes of a broad constituency of the morally vapid, the irresponsible, the self-serving, the ones who, when all the bodies are counted, never knew what was going on, only acted and spoke with the best of intentions, and had no choice. The laborer is worthy of her hire.

rapier said...

Megan has never worked a day in her life. If she ever would have had to consider punching a clock, just having to consider it mind you, of needing to punch a clock in order to put food on table for her children the entire rickety edifice of her self involved libertarianism would have been impossible.

She is perhaps the most inane Antoinette extant.

Anonymous said...

In all this, it is worth remembering one thing:
People shouldn't be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Anonymous said...

Of course, her post on the actual event says it's no one's fault...or everyone's.

roy hofeinz said...

Your a bigger liar than Krugman.

Susan of Texas said...

Well, that taught me a valuable lesson.

Rugosa said...

I know a little about the biomedical research world*, which means I know a lot more about it than McArdle. Most of the basic research that fuels biomedical advances is performed at academic institutions. Government funding is an essential resource to run these labs. Pharma (using that as shorthand for the profit-making pharmaceutial industry) usually enters the picture when a line of research is advanced enough to turn to drug or device design. Pharma also picks what it hopes will be financial winners - Viagra and Rogaine come to mind. The problem of "orphan diseases" is well known - conditions that are not common enough, or the potential treatments too cheap, to be profitable enough for Pharma to pursue. Another problem in biomedical research is that research funded and performed by for-profit entities is inherently biased towards the drugs or devices they have invested in.

Only government funding or non-profit institutions can support the kind of open-ended basic research that allows scientists to pursue biomedical research for love of knowledge. Top researchers and academics do well financially, but all of them know they could be making much, much more in the private sector. It's a pretty special bunch of people who dedicate their considerable talents to actually improving conditions for all people, instead of just lining their own pockets.

*Full disclosure - my (less-than-median) salary is paid by a government grant.