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January 17, 2011

Communicating with Krugman on Health Care Costs

Paul Krugman certainly made an idiot of himself last week, when he should have either focused on his supposed area of expertise (SAoE), or on grieving for the victims in Tucson. Or both. Instead........well, you know.

So it's somewhat refreshing to find him a little closer to his SAoE this morning, where we observe him writing a carefully reasoned, well supported, critique of the GOP's claims about health care costs. Hahahaha!! Like that'll happen. No, here's what he really wrote:

My wife and I were thinking of going out for an inexpensive dinner tonight. But John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says that no matter how cheap the meal may seem, it will cost thousands of dollars once you take our monthly mortgage payments into account.

Wait a minute, you may say. How can our mortgage payments be a cost of going out to eat, when we’ll have to make the same payments even if we stay home? But Mr. Boehner is adamant: our mortgage is part of the cost of our meal, and to say otherwise is just a budget gimmick.

Now, I read that with an immense sense of confusion, but also a sense of relief. Because I finally see what the problem is: we haven't presented our case to Dr. Krugman using embarrassingly trite analogies - analogies so feeble and so misleading that they represent an insult to taxpayer and patient alike. Yes, it's now clear that Dr. Krugman will never understand budgets and simple math with resorting to analogies so insipid and pedestrian as to be below the ken of almost all pulse-bearing mammals.

So. Our bad. Ima fix it, but first let's get back to Dr. Krugman:


Health reform, says the budget office, will increase Social Security revenues and reduce Medicare costs. But the G.O.P. analysis says that these sums don’t count, because some people have said that these savings would also extend the life of these programs’ trust funds, so counting these savings as deficit reduction would be “double-counting,” because — well, actually it doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds impressive.
Apparently the concept of "double-counting," which both the CBO and the NYT have admitted is occurring, is beyond Dr. Krugman's intellectual grasp. As part of the AoSHQ outreach program let me recast the GOP argument in terms comprehensible even to an NYT columnist, by continuing his dinner scene:
"See that older fellow over there? We were supposed to buy him all his dinners, but now we're way behind on paying for them. Let's just pay half his meals after this!"

"Good idea, we can just barely afford that!" applauded his wife.

"And then we can take the money we saved and buy this other nice couple some food!" continued the economist.

"But we don't have that money," his wife objected, "We never did. We're just not going deeper in debt by not spending it."

"Nonsense you GOP tool!!" roared Dr K., "We save the money on the geezer and now we can feed these other people, and that's all there is to it!"

"But that just transfers our debt from one column to the other," she pled, "we haven't saved anything! Now you've got me worried - how exactly are we paying for all these meals?"

"Well first," said the econ-gnome, "I'm going to bump up taxes on the people who make pots and pans."

"Won't they just increase the prices of pots and pans, which the restaurant will eventually pass on to us?"

"Hush, little one," murmured her spouse, "The next customers will pay the higher prices, not us!! Besides, scoring rules say you can't anticipate that sort of thing! Strike it from your mind!!

Let's continue: for my second trick, I'll tell the cooks that I'm not going to pay these prices for this food."

"But they'll stop serving us!" moaned his wife, "You've tried this before and you know it never works - you know you're going to have to back down and pay them at their going rates!!"

"Simmer down, " he instructed, "You're not allowed to think that far ahead. Remember the scoring rules!! And I still haven't revealed my last moneysaver - I'm going to make the rich people pay more and make the people who order expensive meals pay more!"

"I can see how the rich could be forced to pay more," she mused, " but won't the people ordering expensive meals just order cheaper meals?"

"Scoring Rules!!"

"Ah."

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posted by Geoff at 11:55 AM

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